Anyone looking for a proper unpacking of one of human history’s most consequential revolutions will be left wanting, but anyone looking for history as an excuse for zombie-adjacent genre fun will be most pleased with La Révolution.
This review of La Révolution is spoiler-free.
Mileage will no doubt vary when it comes to Aurélien Molas’s eight-hour historical drama La Révolution, now streaming on Netflix. Anyone looking for a proper, mature, nuanced examination of the French Revolution as an anarchic and far-reaching consequence of aristocratic tyranny and class disparity is going to be disappointed. But anyone looking for a good excuse to revise history into a fist-pumping nationalistic allegory for contemporary inequality with a sprinkling of occultism is going to have a jolly old time. I know what I was looking for, and I’m (mostly) happy with what I got.
None of this is to understate the importance of the French Revolution or the dangers of boiling away the nuances of history in service of speculative genre fiction, but you can always read a book, you know? La Révolution is much more concerned with being a handsome-looking bit of agitprop mostly concerned with cool fights and schlocky ideas, and I’m pretty much okay with that. It’s set in 1787, a couple of years before the start of the revolution proper, mostly in and around the French county of Montagris, and concerns the intersecting lives of Élise de Montargis (Marilou Aussilloux), a sympathetic noblewoman, and Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (Amir El Kacem), eventual inventor of the guillotine, who is investigating a series of murders that are connected to a mysterious virus. All of this will eventually lead to revolution by way of supernatural discoveries and conspiracies, with the vampire and zombie-adjacent developments working nicely enough as a metaphor for enormous wealth disparity and a funny inversion of the idea of eating the rich.
None of this is subtle or particularly interested in being clever; you can’t have your show’s plot points include literal blue blood, immortality via occultism, and an insatiable hunger for human flesh and still expect the well-known historical aristocrats being depicted to get thoughtful biographies. It’s a grandiose and profoundly silly bit of revisionist-history-as-metaphor with all the facile pleasures of uncomplicated genre tropes and excellent production design courtesy of a trio of cinematographers (Mathieu Plainfossé, Martial Schmeltz, and Antoine Sanier). There are a whole bunch of visually-striking moments and deliberately anachronistic flourishes that help to create a stylish if otherworldly effect and docking points from La Révolution for taking liberties with history feels like criticizing a supercar for taking liberties with fuel.