Our review of Firebrand, the exciting period film by Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz starring the excellent Alicia Vikander and Jude Law as Catherine Parr and Henry VIII.
Four years after the extraordinary critical acclaim achieved with The invisible life of Eurídice Gusmãowhich in 2019 won the prize for best film in the Un Certain Regard section, Karim Aïnouz returned to the Cannes Film Festival with Firebrandthis time competing and with his first film in english language.
Moving from Brazilian auteur cinema to an important international production with protagonists Alicia Vikander e Jude Law it was an operation that hid more than a few pitfalls, yet the filmmaker born in 1966 from Fortaleza managed to maintain the originality of his gaze by signing a costume work that is visually very suggestive and stimulating on a narrative level, devoid of those sweetenings and that rhetoric that this type of film often resorts to.
Henry VIII, Catherine Parr and the Kingdom of England
We are between July and September of 1544, when Catherine Parr (Alicia Vikander), sixth wife of Henry VIII (Jude Law), acts as regent in charge of the Kingdom of England and Ireland while her husband is engaged in war in France. In many in the Tudor court, however, do not look kindly on her regency: Catherine is not only a woman, but moreover in the religious sphere she sympathizes with the reformist positions and is against the obligatory nature of the Latin language for the celebration of masses, seen as an unjust instrument of removal of religion from the people. Upon his early return from the transalpine military expedition, which became inevitable due to a leg infection that no longer allowed him to ride, Henry VIII regains full powers and Catherine is forced to return to her previous role of subordination to the King. Soon However, the woman will have to defend herself from multiple very influential personalities who aim to dismiss her by accusing her of heresy and treason, including Henry VIII.
Firebrand, Jude Law and the aroma of blood, feces and sweat for his Henry VIII: “If you’re not real, it doesn’t work”
Alicia Vikander and Jude Law in Tudor court
Stopping here in the description of the plot (many viewers may not remember the historical events in question, thus preferring not to read too many advances), we would like to underline how Firebrand is very skilled in staging the psychological tensions within the Tudor court, in especially the dynamics that regulate the relationship between Catherine and Henry VIII. From the very first images of the film, the viewer is immersed in a fascinating but at the same time disturbing and disturbing world of palace intrigue. This happens thanks to the solid direction of Karim Aïnouz and the good screenplay co-written by Henrietta Ashworth and Jessica Ashworth, but also thanks to excellent performances by Alicia Vikander and Jude Lawvery convincing in bringing to the big screen respectively the determined, autonomous and free Catherine (the first woman in England to publish a book in her name, who later became a figure recalled by the feminist movement) and the elusive, unpredictable and irascible Henry VIII.
A gripping psychological thriller
Firebrand so it is sort of tense psychological thriller set in the mid-sixteenth century that entertains the viewer with great effectiveness, making him reflect at the same time on very current issues such as the role of women in society and the relationship between male power and female figures.
In an attempt to address as wide an audience as possible (from this point of view the final voice-over is significant and unnecessary), Aïnouz’s work leaves the feeling of not pushing as much as it could have in terms of the ambiguity of the characters, but it is still an intriguing and original period film. Deserving of being in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, the most important film festival in the world.
Excellently played by the protagonists Alicia Vikander and Jude Law, the first English-language work by the acclaimed Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz (winner of Un Certain Regard in 2019 with Eurídice Gusmão’s The Invisible Life) is a stimulating and enthralling psychological costume thriller about the court of the Tudors in the years of Henry VIII and Catherine Parr. Not a masterpiece, but a solid film that entertains and makes you reflect on very current issues such as the role of women in society and the relationship between male power and female figures.
Because we like it
- The director’s and screenwriters’ ability to stage the psychological tensions between the protagonists.
- The approach to period film without rhetoric and sweetening.
- The excellent interpretations of Alicia Vikander and Jude Law.
- Although original and stimulating, in addressing the general public it does not push as much as it could in terms of the ambiguity of the characters.
- The final voiceover was unnecessary.