Braveheart screenwriter Randall Wallace has taken the legend of The Man In The Iron Mask (a mysterious prisoner of the Bastille in the late 17th century) as a starting point for this historic romp. He's then thrown in a bit of Alexandre Dumas' Musketeer novels (primarily The Viscount Of Bragelonne) for good measure. With a dream cast, some gorgeous costumes, perfect period sets and breathtaking sword fights, this very modern version kicks off in lavish, melodramatic, almost epic style.
Unfortunately, the story soon runs out of steam as it bolts forward. The rescue section in the middle is marred by a scene involving prosthetic make-up (which wasn't really up for grabs in the 17th century), some crass signposting (yes, we know that D'Artagnan has a special reason for guarding the monarch - now get on with the story) and a fair amount of even crasser dialogue. Although seeing Jeremy Irons punch out the King with the one-liner "It's judgement day", is worth the price of admission alone.
There's also a rather unnecessary sub-plot involving the King's mistress (played by critically acclaimed French actress Judith Godréche), while John Malkovich is unconvincing as the man-who-would-be-father to the lonely Phillipe.
Acting honours go instead to Anne Parriauld (Nikita) as the King's mother, to Byrne and Irons, and to Leonardo DiCaprio, who will no doubt set teen hearts afluttering with another heroic role. Depardieu, meanwhile, delights in playing the oafish Porthos, providing the majority of the laughs, memorably wandering through one scene drunken and butt-naked.
It's a shame that the film doesn't quite assume the rollicking action-adventure status that it aspires to. It's very entertaining in the end, but go expecting to see Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves for'98 rather than a Gallic-flavoured Braveheart.