the triumph of love (2002)

director: clare peploe

mira sorvino, ben kingsley, fiona shaw

There's a grand, wonderful fakeness to Clare Peploe's The Triumph of Love, a film based on 18th century play whose plot was already venerable when Shakespeare used it in Twelfth Night and As You Like It.

A Princess (Mira Sorvino) has fallen in love with a young man who is, in fact, the rightful heir to the throne that her father usurped. In spite of that, the Princess is beloved by everyone in the kingdom except for the philosopher Hemocrates (Ben Kingsley) and his sister Leontine (Fiona Shaw), who have raised Agis to hate the Princess and, by extension, all womankind. With her faithful maid Corrine (Rachael Stirling) and a couple of Hemocrates' easily-bribed servants, the Princess infliltrates the philosopher's country retreat dressed as a Phocion, a brilliant young man, and his valet.

Within minutes, the Princess has managed to seduce both Hemocrates and Leontine, and become Agis' best friend. For the next hour or so, she has to overcome Agis' hatred of her, and convince his surrogate parents to separately elope with her. Sorvino is required to basically act out the same scene over and over, both as a young woman passing as a man, and a young woman whose disguise has fooled everyone but Hermocrates, whose initial intellectual arrogance is quickly converted by the Princess into lovesick ardour.

It's all terribly silly stuff, but it's a credit to both Marivaux, the original playwright, and the remarkable cast that it's ultimately both riveting and outrageously watchable. Kingsley is spectacular as a man whose haughty cultivation of his own ego renders it as playable as a harp, and Sorvino, whose unerring confidence as the Princess/Phocion finally justifies her premature, even mystifying, Oscar.

Like so much 18th century art, The Triumph of Love is about the war between reason and emotion, and culminates in an ending that combines the conventional romantic clinch with a scientific breakthrough. Like everything else in the story, it's a forced as a fireworks display, but in the right hands, just as enjoyable.