Joan of Arc (1999)
mini-series for TV
Michael Alexander Miller and Ronald Parker
Early in the 15th Century, Burgundy and England fought for control of a divided France, while Charles, the dauphin and rightful heir to the throne, hadn't enough power nor the backing to make his ascendancy. But it had long been prophesied that a maid from Lorraine would rise up to unite France and make the country whole; and in 1429 that prophecy came to pass, when a young woman from the farming country in the north made her way to Charles and convinced him that she was on a mission from God. Her name was Joan D'Arc; and this is her story. `Joan of Arc,' directed by Christian Duguay, stars Leelee Sobieski as Joan, who - seventeen-years-old at the time - through Divine guidance managed to lead an army to victory after victory, and within months was instrumental in placing Charles upon the throne, as King of France.
When Joan was ten, she first heard the `voices' that would ultimately lead her to her destiny. It was the voice of her patron saint, Catherine; and by the age of seventeen, having been guided by others, including Saint Michael, she was in the court of Charles (Neil Patrick Harris). How she was able to do what she did still seems inexplicable; and yet it is a matter of recorded history that this maid, Joan D'Arc, did indeed lead the armies of France and helped unite the country. That she was betrayed by Charles and burned at the stake for heresy when she was nineteen is also well documented, as is the fact that seven years after her death France at last became a whole country, united - as she had predicted. And Charles went on to reign for another thirty years.
Originally made for TV as a miniseries, this film nevertheless is as good, or actually even better, than many projects that find their way into theatrical release. Well written (by Michael Alexander Miller and Ronald Parker) and directed by Duguay, it presents Joan as a very real person, struggling herself to realize where she fits into the grand scheme of things. Duguay successfully avoids lapsing into any melodrama, and instead delivers a solid drama that is realistic and absorbing. But the real strength of the film is clearly Sobieski, who was herself seventeen when this movie was filmed.
Leelee, with a maturity beyond her years, keeps Joan grounded with a portrayal that is not only credible, but which makes her extremely accessible to the audience; one with whom you can easily empathize. Her Joan is strong, yet vulnerable, and Leelee's ability to capture the complexities of the character is what makes her so good, and makes her Joan so believable. There is an innocence about her that, along with her maturity conveys an attitude as well as attributes that the real Joan of Arc conceivably would have had. And Leelee embodies it all with her engaging, powerful performance, which is arguably the best portrayal of Joan ever brought to the screen, and for which she deservedly received an Emmy nomination.
A lavish and emotionally involving presentation of the life of this remarkable young woman driven by Divine providence to carry out a singular mission, `Joan of Arc' is an inspirational meditation on the many and varied manifestations of destiny, and those who in rare instances are motivated by forces clearly beyond the comprehension of mortal man. Riveting and extremely well presented, this is a memorable film that will promote a reflection on life, while providing a true sense of the eternal.
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| || Peter O'Toole |
as Bishop Cauchon
Blue-eyed Irish actor who brings passion and intensity to his screen characters, more than a few of whom have been wildeyed visionaries. A graduate of London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and an acclaimed Shakespearean actor, O'Toole debuted on film in The Savage Innocents (1959), but shot to stardom in the title role of Lawrence of Arabia (1962), earning an Academy Award nomination to boot. It's possible he'll always be associated with the role of T. E. Lawrence (though, ironically, he was a secondary choice, replacing Albert Finney); his intensely credible portrayal of this desert dreamer is one of the most dynamic in movie history. He's had no trouble moving on, however, to other larger-than-life roles, and has in fact earned another six Oscar nominations for playing King Henry II in both Becket (1964, opposite Richard Burton) and The Lion in Winter (1968, opposite Katharine Hepburn), the shy schoolteacher in the musical Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), a wacked-out British lord who thinks he's Jesus Christ in The Ruling Class (1972), maniacal movie director Eli Cross (inspired, O'Toole said, by David Lean) in The Stunt Man (1980), and washed-up, Errol Flynn-ish movie swashbuckler Alan Swann in the sweetly comic My Favorite Year (1982), With it all, O'Toole has yet to win an Academy Award! An admitted alcoholic, O'Toole squandered his fame (and, some say, his talent) on many projects clearly beneath his abilities. Nonetheless, he remains a compulsively watchable actor whose presence brings color (and some measure of respectability) to any film or TV project in which he appears. In 1985 he lent his voice to a series of animated features about Sherlock Holmes. Among his television ventures: the miniseries "Masada" (1981), a 1983 remake of Svengali with Jodie Foster, a 1984 remake of Kim, Crossing to Freedom (1990), and The Dark Angel (1992). In 1992 he published his first volume of memoirs, "Loitering With Intent," which was greeted with rave reviews.
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| || Jacqueline Bisset |
as Isabelle D'Arc
This quiet brunette beauty went from bit parts to full-fledged stardom over a decade's time-but got more attention from her exposure in bikinis and wet T-shirts than she ever did for her performances. The former model started her movie career in minor roles in The Knack, and How to Get It (1965), Roman Polanski's Cul-de-Sac (1966), and Casino Royale (1967). She made more of an impact on audiences when she lost her bikini top during a surfside romp in The Sweet Ride (1968), and pictures of Bisset sans halter surfaced in just about every magazine shortly thereafter. Suddenly a hot commodity, Bisset toiled in many movies of varying quality, including Bullitt, The Detective (both 1968), Airport and The Grasshopper (both 1970). Her striking good looks and sophisticated manner occasionally landed her more significant parts, notably as the female lead in François Truffaut's Oscar-winning Day for Night (1973), playing an actress recovering from a nervous breakdown. Bisset appeared in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) and Murder on the Orient Express (1974) before making a splash, so to speak, as the wet-T-shirted heroine of The Deep (1977). She deserved better; although she had by this time become a capable actress, she was mired in unfortunate pictures such as The Greek Tycoon (her character modeled after Jackie O.), Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (both 1978), and Inchon (1982). Like many other actresses, she finally decided to try producing her own vehicles, and succeeded with Rich and Famous (1981). Bisset's subsequent films include Class (1983) and John Huston's Under the Volcano (1984). Since then she has appeared on-screen sporadically, trying her hand at comedy (in 1989's Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills in addition to appearing in the quasi-exploitational Wild Orchid (1990).
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| || Chad Willett |
as Jean de Metz
Willett is a native of British Columbia, where he was trained in Meisner and Stanislavski acting techniques and starred for four seasons in the popular Canadian series "Madison" (1993) Eventually, film and television work brought him to Los Angeles where he has continued to play diverse characters such as a hippie headshop owner opposite Vincent D'Onofrio in the independent feature film Steal This Movie (2000). He chased monsters throughout New York in hopes of breaking the big story as reporter 'Tucker Burns' in the Sci-Fi Channel series, "The Chronicle" (2001) based on the 'News from the Edge' series of books. He also took on the challenge of telling the true story of a New York stockbroker turned cattle rancher in Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy (1998) (TV) for director Kari Skogland who also recruited Willett to appear in her short film “Nature Boy", produced by Wesley Snipes. His television credits include “The X-Files”, “Charmed” and a recurring role on “Jack & Jill”. Most recently, Chad starred opposite Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Locket, The (2002) (TV), based on Richard Paul Evans's best-selling novel of the same title. Willett plays Michael Keddington, a troubled young man who befriends a lonely woman living in an assisted-care facility where he works. She teaches him important life- lessons about faith, trust and forgiveness.
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| || Maximilian Schell |
as Brother John Le'Maitre
Dark, handsome, and intelligent leading man who, never content to play the matinee idol, undertook a variety of ambitious projects instead, on both sides of the camera. He made his American screen debut in the all-star WW2 melodrama The Young Lions (1958). In 1961 he tackled the difficult role of the defense attorney in the sprawling war-crimes epic Judgment at Nuremberg for which he won a Best Actor Oscar. While he continued to appear in such crowd-pleasers as the caper flick Topkapi (1964) and the wartime thriller Counterpoint (1968), Schell explored other aspects of filmmaking, producing an adaptation of Kafka's The Castle in 1968 and writing, producing, and directing a film of Turgenev's First Love in 1970. 1974's The Pedestrian which Schell wrote, produced, directed, and starred in, was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. During the 1970s he seemed to appear in just about every picture made that had anything to do with World War 2, from the Eichmann-based drama The Man in the Glass Booth (1975; Oscar nomination) to the epic adventure A Bridge Too Far to the battlefield gorefest Cross of Iron to the personal-heroism tale Julia (all 1977; Oscar nomination for the last-named). In 1984 he made Marlene a fascinating documentary on the legendary Dietrich, with whom he'd costarred in Nuremberg-but at the last minute, the actress refused to appear on camera. Schell turned this to his advantage, using only his audio interviews with her to create an artistic, elegiac film. In 1990 he played a small, wonderfully comic part in the gangster-movie parody The Freshman Then in 1992 he played Lenin in the acclaimed TV movie Stalin In 1993 he directed and costarred in the family-oriented telefilm Candles in the Dark
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Leelee: "The way that I see Joan is a pure, smart, young woman with such an inner strength and warmth, and a little bit of vulnerability mixed in. I really like this "Joan of Arc" because you leave it asking yourself questions about her beliefs, and everyone who watches it will come away with their own interpretation."
"I wasn't really paying attention to the locations. In fact, she wouldn't be noticing how beautiful the castles were, because that's what they looked like at the time. But they were beautiful. But while shooting in them I just wish that they were heated, with bathrooms!!! Each castle after the next was more and more astounding. "
"It was challenging, physically and emotionally. The armor was, like, fifty pounds, and it got chilly there - I felt like a sardine in a can."