Applied to film, the phrase “a civil war romance” immediately conjures up images of Gone with the Wind, so I was pleasantly surprised — then delighted — to realize that in the case of The Princess of Montpensier, the civil war at hand is in fact the French “Wars of Religion” fought in the late sixteenth century by the Catholics and the Protestant Huguenots (the same wars that Michel de Montaigne sought to seclude himself from by retiring to his country citadel to write his Essais). Director Bertrand Tavernier spoke at length with Film Journal International:
[Madam de Lafayette’s] short story is 30 pages, with practically no dialogue. We invented many things, of course, because it was written in a very puritanical time. The strength of Madame de Lafayette’s writing is that it’s very elliptical, but even being elliptical, there were things she could not mention, like the sex. The very first line is “During the reign of Charles IX, France was torn away by civil war”—she used a very violent verb, dechire, in that polished style of the 17th century—and said that even during that time, among those big disorders, love was creating other disorders. So she’s putting exactly at the same level the violence of civil war and the love story.
I tried to be faithful to the construction of the short story, but Madame de Lafayette suppressed the emotion, and was practically writing a thesis against love and the harm it created, condemning the heroine because she had been unwise. I don’t think Marie was unwise, but trying to do her best, living in a world that was very difficult for a young woman. And the more I worked with Mélanie Thierry, I didn’t want to condemn her.