Directed and written by Randall Wallace, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas
An MGM release of a United Artists presentation, 1998
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne, Anne Parillaud, and Gerard Depardieu
For the honor of a king. And the destiny of a country. All for one.
Oscar-nominated Randall Wallace (Braveheart) made his directorial debut with this adaptation of the 1848 classic by Alexandre Dumas (1802-70), featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in a dual role. Years have passed since the Three Musketeers, Aramis (Jeremy Irons), Athos (John Malkovich), and Porthos (Gerard Depardieu) fought together with their friend D’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne). The arrogant, tyrannical King Louis XIV (Leonardo DiCaprio) desires the beautiful Christine (Judith Godreche), so he orders her suitor Raoul (Peter Sarsgaard), the son of Athos, off to face death at the front. He also sends Aramis to kill the leader of a Jesuit rebellion. Louis is unaware that his loyal protector and informant, D’Artagnan, is the secret lover of his mother, Queen Anne (Anne Parillaud). Louis’ younger twin brother, Philippe (also DiCaprio) is the man in the iron mask, imprisoned for the past six years. Arthos and Porthos plan to free Philippe, abduct Louis and replace him by putting Philippe on the throne. French location scenes include the Chateau de Fontainbleau. Previous adaptations: Allan Dwan’s The Iron Mask (1929) with Douglas Fairbanks, the 1939 James Whale version with Louis Hayward, Patricia Medina in Lady in the Iron Mask (1952), Henri Decoin’s Le Masque de Fer (1962), Mike Newell’s 1976 TV movie with Richard Chamberlain, and Ken Annakin’s The Fifth Musketeer (1978, aka Behind the Iron Mask) with Beau Bridges, Lloyd Bridges, Sylvia Kristel, Ursula Andress, Cornel Wilde, Jose Ferrer, Rex Harrison, and Olivia de Havilland. A second film titled The Man in the Iron Mask was released in 1998, a low-budget effort from director William Richert. — Bhob Stewart, All Movie Guide
A set of 148 beautiful screencaps from the film, provided by Aragarna, is available in the Gallery.
Q: …You recently starred in The Man in the Iron Mask with Leonardo DiCaprio, who had just finished filming Titanic before you started working with him. Was he still gurgling up water and picking icicles out of his hair?
A: All he said about Titanic was that it was an incredibly difficult shoot. I asked him if he thought it was going to be a success and he said, “I’d be surprised if it’s a big deal.”
Q: Would you want to be in a blockbuster the size of Titanic?
A: No. If it’s a hit, that’s great, but you can’t go in saying, “This is going to be a big success,” because the truth is that actors don’t really have any control over the end product. To think that you have control is a delusion and it’s also incredibly frustrating to be investing that much hope into something that essentially boils down to marketing. So you try to do movies that you feel connected with and you work with directors and actors you admire.
Q: On The Man in the Iron Mask, you crossed swords with Gerard Depardieu, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich and Leo. Were you the best swordsman?
A: No, I’m completely uncoordinated. John Malkovich is really good at it and so is Jeremy. But Leo and I were like the fencing dunces. We acquitted ourselves nobly in the end. —Movieline Magazine 1998
interviews and behind-the-scenes
From promotional interview:
Byrne said “The first day we had to get into costume, [Leo] called me over and asked, “Gabriel, do I look like an idiot?”
I said, “Leo, every woman in the entire universe is madly in love with you. Why would you look like an idiot?”
Leo countered with “Well, I just looked at you and you look like an idiot!”
More promotional images are in the Gallery.
d’Artagnan: No. If anyone sees… it is death.
Queen Anne: If I don’t kiss you, I’ll die anyway.
King Louis XIV: I hear there was an incident at the Musketeers’ gate, where a man came intent on killing me. Is it our policy now to let would-be assassins go free, d’Artagnan?
d’Artagnan: He wished to kill his own pain. His son is dead. I can think of nothing worse.
King Louis XIV: What about losing your king?
d’Artagnan: That depends on the king.
King Louis XIV: You think my affairs are empty…
d’Artagnan: I think that it is possible for one man to love one woman all his life and be the better for it, yes.
d’Artagnan: Anne, I know that to love you is a treason against France, but not to love you is a treason against my heart.
Queen Anne: Then we will both die traitors, d’Artagnan.
Aramis: Perhaps you should take his offer. We’re dead anyway.
Porthos: He’s right, d’Artagnan.
Phillippe: Wait. Bargain me to Louis for all your lives. You’ve done your best. Please let me go.
d’Artagnan: No, I cannot do it. Even if I could give up my king, I could never give up my son.
[they all look at him, thunderstruck]
Phillippe: Your son?
d’Artagnan: I loved your mother. I love her still. You are my son. I never knew you existed. And I never felt pride as a father… until this moment.
[the Four Musketeers and Phillipe are trapped by riflemen at the other end of the hallway]
Aramis: d’Artagnan… They’re young Musketeers. They’ve been weaned on our legends. They revere us. It is an advantage.
Porthos: Yes. Why don’t we charge them?
d’Artagnan: I trained these men. They will fight to the death. But if we must die – if WE must die – let it be like this.
[He draws his sword and points it at the floor. Aramis, Porthos, and Athos join their swords with his]
Athos: One for all. All for one.
Despite the plot’s wealth of incident, all of this proves somewhat less rousing and inspiring than one might hope for, due to Wallace’s mundane approach to action and a lack of tension in the storytelling. On the other hand, his essential seriousness adds some unexpected weight to some of the work’s central themes, notably the special nature of father-son bonds, the effects of advancing years on one’s abilities and priorities, and the comparative worth of oaths and loyalty to God, state, ideals, family and friends.
Adding plenty of star power of their own, Irons, Malkovich, Depardieu and Byrne form a disparate bunch, both in terms of iconography and acting styles, but are fine fun to watch together. Irons displays more energy than he’s shown onscreen in a while, Malkovich delivers a well-focused change-of-pace perf in a sympathetic role, Depardieu has no trouble enacting the buffoon of the group who is concerned with his dwindling physical powers, while Byrne brings welcome gravity to his emotionally and morally conflicted character.
Leonardo DiCaprio is the star of the story without being its hero, although his first emergence from the mask is an effective shot. The three musketeers are cast with big names (Irons, Malkovich, Depardieu) but to my surprise the picture is stolen by Gabriel Byrne, who has the most charisma and is the most convincing. His scenes with Parillaud (from La Femme Nikita) are some of the best in the movie. Once all the pieces of the plot were in place, I was at least interested, if not overwhelmed; I could see how, with a rewrite and a better focus, this could have been a film of Braveheart quality instead of basically just a costume swashbuckler.
Gabriel Byrne also stands out as d’Artagnan. His misplaced loyalty to the petulant king is so deep that he risks a break with the musketeer trio. And dark romantic secrets are hidden in his sad gaze.
The Dumas story is a classic separated-at-birth yarn, and the twist is engagingly laid out through the interweaving of palace intrigues and romantic mismatches. Viewers expecting chandelier-swinging swordplay are likely to be disappointed by the measured tone and portentous verbal interplay.
Film Quips Online [this article is no longer available on the Internet]
The characterizations of the now-retired Musketeers are all impeccable, as may be expected by the cast. The vengeful Athos (Malkovich), spiritual Aramis (Irons), lustful and fun-loving Porthos (Depardieu), and d’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne), the one who remains loyal to the king, all give a satisfyingly well-rounded feel to the story. We see it from all sides, and we see the love and mutual respect between these old friends, who sometimes quarrel so angrily that we expect them to draw swords against each other, and indeed they do. It’s all part of their comfortable yet intensely competitive relationship. What a fine foursome.
Fortunately, the veteran actors playing the Musketeers are far better, and they have the lion’s share of the screen time. Malkovich is as delicious as ever, and it’s refreshing to see him in a role where the primary characteristic is nobility rather than psychotic behavior. As d’Artagnan, Gabriel Byrne successfully essays a character who is increasingly conflicted and uncertain about where his true loyalty lies. Gerard Depardieu is delightful as the somewhat-fatuous Porthos. And, as Aramis, Jeremy Irons gives his most lively performance in a long time.
This isn’t an action movie as Hollywood defines them nowadays–which usually means a non-stop series of climaxes. No, The Man in the Iron Mask takes its time getting to the big action scenes. So action movie fans weaned on The Terminator or Die Hard might find this movie to be a little slow, but that’s exactly what I liked about it–it’s willingness to let us get to know the characters before throwing them into life-and-death situations. And thanks to the incredible cast–with Gabriel Byrne as d’Artagnan and John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu, and Jeremy Irons in the Three Musketeers roles of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis–all of the characters are vividly brought to life.
historical and literary inaccuracies: notes from aragarna
The film is based on a book called Le Vicomte de Bragelonne written in 1847 by Alexandre Dumas, third and last part of the Musketeer Trilogy, after The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After. The Iron Mask is just one part of the book.
D’Artagnan is an historical figure. His full name is Charles de Batz Castelmore, comte d’Artagnan. He was born in Gascony (South West of France) around 1615 and died at the Siege of Maastricht in 1673.
Athos, Porthos, and Aramis are fictional characters though their names are inspired by real musketeers.
The Iron Mask is one of the most popular enigmas of French History. He was an unknown prisoner of the Bastille. For more details, visit the Wikipedia page for the historical Man in the Iron Mask.
The Castle used in the movie is Vaux-le-Vicomte. I think it is supposed to be Versailles though the court was not settled in Versailles yet at the time of the story. Vaux-le-Vicomte was built for Fouquet, Louis XIV’s Prime Minister. But Louis XIV was jealous of Fouquet’s power and had him arrested (by d’Artagnan, historical fact, related in the book) and then built Versailles.
The riots at the beginning of the movie may refer to La Fronde but that took place when Louis was only a child.
Louis XIV was never the good King described at the end of the film. He was clearly an absolute monarch.
Book vs. Film
Athos, Porthos, and Aramis are pseudonyms they used when they were musketeers. They quit them when they quit the uniform. So apart from d’Artagnan, nobody used their old names in the second and third book, and certainly not the King.
Athos is le comte de la Fère.
Porthos is le baron du Vallon.
Aramis is l’abbé d’Herblay.
Christine’s character is actually called Louise de la Vallière, who was a mistress of Louis XIV.
Raoul doesn’t know he is really Athos’s son because he is a natural child. And he doesn’t know his mother.
Athos dies as soon as he receives the letter announcing Raoul’s death.
Of course, d’Artagnan is not the twins’ father. And did not have an affair with the Queen…
Only Aramis and Porthos are involved in the Iron Mask episode. So obviously, d’Artagnan doesn’t die, but Porthos does. In the book they do not succeed to replace one twin by the other.
The four musketeers are never reunited in that last book.
Their characters are not very well translated from book to film.
Porthos is not that vulgar. He’s just not the smartest of the group, so he follows and uses his colossal force.
Aramis is actually the one who has lots of mistresses. He is the most mysterious of the four.
d’Artagnan is the one who is more attached to their friendship. Always joyful and full of ideas, he is the natural leader even though he was the last to join the group.
And Athos is the wisest of them all. He has always loved d’Artagnan like a son (which is why I think he would have guessed d’Artagnan’s secret).
d’Artagnan dies at the very end of the book, at the Siege of Maastrich, like in real History.
Oh and I almost forgot!! The correct sentence is “All for One, One for All,” never the other way round. Plus it’s said only once by d’Artagnan at the beginning of the Three Musketeers, and then repeated by Porthos, and that’s it !
a personal review by aragarna
When I was a kid, I was a real bookworm. Books have always meant a lot to me and I couldn’t go anywhere without a book in my bag or my pocket. Each book was like a window opened on a new world, and the best window I’ve ever opened was probably the one that made me meet d’Artagnan and his three musketeer fellows. I was 11.
One year later, The Man in the Iron Mask was released in France. I had already read the whole trilogy by then and I was over-excited by the idea of watching my big time heroes for real. I was probably the only girl of my age (at least among my friends) to be excited by this movie, not for King Leo, but for d’Artagnan. Not even Gabriel, just d’Artagnan.
I probably confusedly knew who Gabriel was since I saw Into the West with my class that same year. But I was young and I didn’t care much about actors.
I still remember when my parents called me to come and watch TV, where they were talking about the film. And I do remember that question the anchorman asked the actor who was d’Artagnan about being a traitor. My heart missed a beat. I was like “what?! what the hell ? how can it be? d’Artagnan cannot be a traitor !! what have they done to him?!”
So I saw the movie… d’Artagnan may not be a traitor, but the film was definitely a treason!
This film is probably why I’m always skeptical about American adaptations of European History or literature…
Of course the story was nothing like the original… the twin story was not enough, so they had to add adultery. And at the very top of the state. Not only the King has a secret twin but also a secret father… or, the other way round, not only d’Artagnan has an illegitimate son, but two!! And of course he dies at the end, sacrificing himself to save one son from the other… and of course, the King is unbearable, while his poor brother is a real sweetheart. Which is great because Athos had just lost his own son…
They didn’t even respect the names of the characters. Why on earth did they change Louise de la Vallière for Christine ?!
And d’Artagnan talking with the King about his love affairs…
It may not appear that bad for someone who had not an already forged image of what the story should be. The film itself – as a film – is a regular Hollywood flick. It has its lot of action, surprises, romance, nice costumes and locations, strong music, a great heroic (though unbelievable) finale. And on top of that, a great cast. The five main actors are probably close to the perfect choice for their respective characters, though their parts were not very well written, and they do the best they can.
I know it’s almost impossible to translate on screen a writing style. But what made the books so good were precisely the style, the rhythm, the humor. And also the complexity of the characters. Unfortunately, nothing of it remains in the film. Naïve and good Porthos becomes a vulgar old guy. Athos has lost his great noblesse of heart and is now a simple angry dad. Aramis has lost his ambiguity – love of God or love of women. But most of all, d’Artagnan, the joyful, adventurous and philosophical d’Artagnan, is reduced to a brooding and lonely secret man.
And yet… I can find all sorts of valuable arguments, each time I see it, my love resurfaces. d’Artagnan appears on his horse, proudly wearing the musketeer uniform and that beautiful hat and I’m 11 years old all over again…
A big part of it comes from Gabriel’s talent and hotness. An actor can’t save a movie just by himself, but he can save his own part. And his d’Artagnan is still the best on-screen d’Artagnan ever. Sweet, strong, subtle, torn apart or combative, he manages to make an unbelievable story believable. He is the one we care for the most. He steals the show and stays in our minds. It’s simply impossible not to fall in love with him…
All for d’Artagnan.
I gotta admit I saw this movie because of Leo Jack Dawson (like most girls I too fell under his spell, just briefly though, I find him too boyish looking now). But in this flick, I totally fell for Gabriel Byrne as the dashing and regal d’Artagnan. Though billed as a DiCaprio movie due to his massive popularity, Byrne’s the heart & soul of the movie, his performance as the conflicted man carrying a pivotal secret is absolutely terrific, he brings a surprising depth to this archetypal character.
Soundtrack: Music composed by Nick Glennie-Smith
Many thanks to our special Byrneholics for their contributions to this Four Musketeers homage: Aragarna (for history and her story plus her screencaps), Stephanie and Daniela (for links and pictures), and Aragarna (for the “Queek” video) and Billy (for the 2 French videos)–“All for One, One for All!”