Joan of Arc (1999)

Genres - Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Biopic [feature], Hagiography, Historical Epic  |   Run Time - 180 min.  |   Countries - Canada , United States   |  
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Review by Mike Cummings

Presented tastefully and even reverentially, this 1999 made-for-TV film chronicles the short life of St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431), the warrior maiden who roused France to arms against the English during the Hundred Years' War. Like a rough-cut diamond, the motion picture shines but is not without flaws. For example, although Leelee Sobieski projects the purity and stubborn resolve demanded of her role as Joan, she seldom exhibits the depth or range of emotion required to reflect the inner struggle of a visionary called upon to lead a nation; her tears and anguish seem forced and staged. Meanwhile, Neil Patrick Harris (the erstwhile teen doctor of TV's Doogie Howser) ably portrays Charles II, the French monarch Joan defends, but the scriptwriters' characterization of Charles as a forceful, articulate wheeler-dealer who is charming and quick with the quip is off the mark. The historical Charles was a retiring, acne-ridden, immature lout who was weak and indecisive. Inaccuracies also mar the depiction of other historical characters. Nevertheless, the supporting performances of old pros Robert Loggia, Peter O'Toole, Olympia Dukakis, Peter Strauss, and Maximilian Schell are strong, investing the film with gravity and power. In addition, the battle scenes, period attire and overall medieval ambience of the film are first-rate. On the negative side, the story is unremittingly somber. Touches of humor or wit -- somewhere, anywhere -- in the 180-minute drama would have rounded Joan and her compatriots into more credible human beings and helped accentuate, by contrast, the starkness of the principal themes. Still, taken in its totality, the film is a worthy one and certainly far superior to The Messenger, an abominable revisionist version of Joan's story made one year later.