The Man in the Iron Mask
A later 90s film with some A-list stars; Leonardo DiCaprio leads as King Louis and Philippe, Jeremy Irons is Aramis, John Malkovich is Athos, Gérard Depardieu (he’s the fur guy in the live action 102 Dalmatians and will later appear in La Femme Musketeer) is Porthos, Gabriel Byrne (he plays Friedrich Bhaer in the Winona Ryder Little Women movie), and Hugh Laurie (of House fame) makes an appearance as one of the king’s advisors. The film is based on another of Alexandre Dumas’ novels and features the four primary Musketeers as older men; they’ve already saved France once. Jeremy Irons narrates the opening “some of this is legend, but at least this much is fact – when rioting citizens of France destroyed the Bastille, they discovered within its records this mysterious entry: Prisoner number 64389000–the Man in the Iron Mask.” [And that is actually historically accurate, there was a man in an mask imprisoned in the Bastille; it was the inspiration for Dumas. Everything after that is all a fictional story.]
The film is set in 1662, in the reign of King Louis XIV. The peasants are rioting in Paris because they’re starving. Louis, in the meantime is waging wars and when informed of the riots, has his advisors send rotten food to the people. He has sent the captain of his Musketeers, D’Artagnan to fetch Aramis, who is now a priest. Louis wants Aramis to hunt down the secret leader of the Jesuits, and kill him. That order given, Louis attends his party amidst much pomp. A beautiful woman catches his eye. Her name is Christine and she is the soon-to-be fiancée of Raoul, Athos’s son. That does not dissuade Louis. He catches her alone and flirts with her. Christine tries to refuse his advances, stating she is to be engaged to Raoul; but he is the king. D’Artagnan, who keeps a watchful eye on the spoiled king, interrupts Louis’s attempt to kiss Christine. Raoul has come to him to join the Musketeers and the boy is the son of D’Artagnan’s dearest friend.
After the incident, D’Artagnan visits Athos, in an attempt to calm his friend when Raoul enters and reveals he’s been called back to the front. He informs his father that the king’s eye has fallen on Christine and he will not marry the woman only to make her a widow by dying in a war. Athos is furious at the king and demands how D’Artagnan can still serve him. D’Artagnan has not lost hope in Louis becoming a better king. If Louis hurts his son, he will become Athos’s enemy, as will any man who stands in his way, he warns his friend. D’Artagnan promises to speak to the king. On his way back to the palace, the peasants have begun attacking Musketeers for distributing rotten food. D’Artagnan faces down the rabble and when rotten fruit is thrown at him, he catches it with his sword and admits they are right; he will speak to the king. To do so, D’Artagnan sneaks by the advisors waiting outside Louis’s door, using a secret passage. Louis promises that Raoul will return home soon. When he orders his previous advisor (Hugh Laurie) executed, the rioters shot, and the way he dismisses a woman right after bedding her, we can guess what his true motives are. He wants Christine and sending Raoul was the best way to accomplish that. He will do as he pleases and leave others to clean up his messes.
Indeed, we next see Raoul at the front lines and killed by canon fire. Christine is devastated when she receives the news, as is Athos. He rides to the Musketeer garrison on his way to the palace and attacks Musketeers who try to stop him. D’Artagnan tackles him and tries to talk him down. Athos calls D’Artagnan a traitor. That evening, Christine dines with the king; she had gone to him for help, her mother and sister are both ill and her father is dead. Louis seems caring and kind, but has no hesitation about bedding the woman the eve she found out her fiancée died.
The four Musketeers meet in a crypt, Aramis explaining Louis’s order for him to kill the secret leader of the Jesuits. Then reveals that he is the secret leader. He has a plan to replace the king. Porthos and Athos agree, but D’Artagnan cannot; he swore an oath and will not betray his king. Athos, still furious, warns D’Artagnan that the next time they meet, one of them will die. Next, Louis visits D’Artagnan, inquiring why he let Athos go. D’Artagnan responds that if a good man like Athos is now their enemy, they should examine why. Louis pays no attention to the warning and orders D’Artagnan to find Aramis, Athos, and Porthos.
After that, we see the three Musketeers, disguised, sneaking into a prison. Aramis meets with the prisoner in the iron mask; this is his escape. They make their way to an out-of-the-way estate, where the mask is removed. Once the young man is cleaned up, he bears a shocking resemblance to King Louis. Aramis sits everyone down and reveals the truth of Philippe. He is the twin brother to King Louis, their father knew that civil war could eventually erupt with two heirs and thus had the younger twin, Philippe hidden away at a country estate for sixteen years. Porthos remarks that that night was the only night he had ever seen D’Artagnan drunk. The queen was told that the younger son had died. Then, when Louis XIII was on his deathbed, he revealed the truth to his wife and son. That was six years ago. Philippe was taken from the country and put in prison, covered in an iron mask. Aramis was regrettably the one who put the mask on him. He had also been the one to take Philippe from the palace the night he was born. His plan now is to replace Louis with Philippe. The perfect opportunity is in three weeks when Louis plans to hold a masquerade ball. Afterwards, Philippe, as Louis, will send for Athos, Aramis, and Porthos and have them made advisors. Philippe is hesitant to agree at first, but when he confronts Athos whether the man agreed due to anger at Louis for getting Raoul killed, Athos explains that the Musketeers had shared the common dream of serving a worthy king. Philippe will do the switch so that he can be a king worthy of Athos’s service.
A box has been sent to Louis, for his eyes only, containing the iron mask. Anne, the queen mother rushes to her private chapel, weeping at the news that her secret son is dead. D’Artagnan comes to the queen; she embraces him as she cries, then kisses him. He states that he has always loved her, but due to their relationship being treasonous, they cannot be together.
Porthos, who has been feeling useless since he is no longer a young man, decides to hang himself in the barn. A rope has conveniently been left. Athos spots Porthos and asks Aramis what is going on. Aramis states that Porthos has been moping for months; Aramis has sawn through the beam. The beam indeed breaks…and brings down the entire barn. “I’m a genius, not an engineer!” Now that Porthos is done moping, maybe he can be useful for a change, Aramis tells Porthos. They take their turn tutoring Philippe.
At the palace, Christine receives Raoul’s last letter. He had forgiven her anything she may have done. Christine now feels guilty for what she’s done. Louis is not guilty, instead, angry that she no longer loves him and whispers that she will burn in Hell, he will not for he is king, ordained by God. He has his ball moved up and the Musketeers must move up their plans. Aramis goes to the queen and fills her in, while Athos finishes coaching Philippe. It’s not that the Musketeers want Philippe to be a bad king, but he must pretend at the first.
At the ball, Aramis and Porthos freak Louis out, letting him glimpse the iron mask. When he retires to his room, they sneak in and make the switch. D’Artagnan is guarding the hall, so Philippe must sneak out through the passage again. Anne enters the ball for a moment, and will wait until the morrow to speak to her son. D’Artagnan, surprised to see that the king has returned to the ball without his notice, picks up odd behaviors, such as “Louis” helping a woman when she falls and speaking kindly to Christine when she bursts in crying “murderer!” She had written, as Louis, to the general. Louis’s order had been to place Raoul in front of the canon, not at the back like Louis had claimed. D’Artagnan insists the king accompany him, and quietly orders his lieutenant to lock the palace down. The musketeers catch Aramis, Porthos, and Athos, along with their prisoner trying to escape. The older Musketeers fight and are almost out when D’Artagnan comes with “Louis.” He knows that the king beside him is an imposter. The four hold a staring contest, which Athos breaks, revealing the real Louis and holds a knife to his throat. D’Artagnan does the same to Philippe and they eventually switch the two men. Again, the four are almost away, when Louis demands Philippe’s capture. Philippe calls for Athos and D’Artagnan is devastated to see his friends leave.
Back at the palace, in Louis’s chambers, the truth comes out for D’Artagnan. Anne stops by for a moment, to plead for Louis to spare his brother’s life. D’Artagnan makes the same plea; he has never asked Louis for anything for himself. Philippe even makes the plea that he’d rather die than wear the mask again. Louis orders Philippe back into the mask and orders D’Artagnan to bring him Athos, Aramis, and Porthos’s heads, or the king will have his. In the hall, D’Artagnan and the queen speak briefly; Anne had never told D’Artagnan there were two (now, we’re getting suspicious). They’re interrupted by a woman’s cry. Christine has hung herself.
D’Artagnan has left a note for his friends, helping free Philippe. Aramis pulls out their old uniforms; they shall wear them in death. D’Artagnan leaves a rose for Anne (they have previously appeared in her chapel), wearing his old uniform as well. Louis and the musketeers follow D’Artagnan. D’Artagnan meets his old friends in the prison with Philippe; he has chosen to stand with them; but they’re trapped. The four Musketeers face D’Artagnan’s men. The four older men are efficient in their fighting. D’Artagnan has Athos spare his lieutenant. They manage to not die and take a moment to regroup. Louis calls out that he will allow D’Artagnan to retire in peace, if he surrenders now. The other three will be given mercifully quick deaths. D’Artagnan refuses, even when Philippe offers to barter himself for all of them. “If we must die, let it be like this.” He cannot give up his son – Philippe. One last “one for all and all for one,” amongst the friends, crossing their swords and they charge once again. D’Artagnan’s men don’t want to follow Louis’s order to fire, many of them turning their heads as they shoot. Again, those guys have incredible luck and manage to not die. Led by their lieutenant, they salute their captain. Louis goes for Philippe, but D’Artagnan steps in front. Philippe is now determined to kill his brother for killing their father, but D’Artagnan stops him. The lieutenant hears his captain refer to Louis as Philippe’s brother; he orders the rest of the men outside and bound to silence. D’Artagnan tells his son and his friends that this is the death he wanted, “all for one, one – ” Philippe weeps [I’ve been known to cry at this part as well]. The lieutenant stops Louis from escaping, declaring that all he ever wanted to be was D’Artagnan, blaming the spoiled young man for the death of a great hero.
When more guards manage to break down the door, the switch has already been made. Aramis, Athos, and Porthos are the king’s new royal council. They kneel. We next see D’Artagnan’s grave, which is engraved with the iron mask (Philippe had said that D’Artagnan was the man in the mask, presumably since D’Artagnan hid his relation to Louis all those years). Athos states “he [D’Artagnan] was the best of us all.” Philippe asks Athos one last service, let him love Athos like a father, and in time, let Athos love him like a son. The musketeers salute the three and Jeremy Iron narrates the ending. The prisoner in the iron mask was eventually taken to a country estate to live out his life, visited often by Queen Anne. Louis XIV led his country to an era of peace and was regarded as the greatest ruler of the French nation [not historically accurate; Louis XIV continued to wage wars, persecuted the Huguenots and Jansenists (but not the Jesuits), “and the utter mess he left France in is generally considered to be one of the ultimate causes of the French Revolution” – per TV Tropes.org].
The first time I saw this movie, I wasn’t terribly fond of it, mainly since King Louis was completely despicable. But once I realized that it shows the older four Musketeers, my interest piqued. D’Artagnan is the most complex character of the cast; the other musketeers don’t have quite as much of an arc. The father/son relationship is nice between Athos and Phillippe. To him, Phillippe is innocent and needs protection from Louis. There’s not as much action, but then, since it focuses on the king and his twin, they don’t sword fight as often. The ending fight is very good, but it is a blatant demonstration of “we can’t kill the main characters…yet, so they can’t get hit by bullets.” The older musketeers easily handle the younger ones, which is explained to a point. But really? They aren’t even scratched by a bullet? There are five guys, running next to each other, in a hall, and you can’t hit one? You’re supposed to be musketeers? (I’m glad they didn’t die then, but it’s still hard to believe.)
Next Time: La Femme Musketeer