Peter Smith

Publications, Lectures and Other Stuff

Vatel: The Opulence of the Sun King and How to Organize Banquets and Festivities

One of my favourite movies depicting life in the 17th-century is Vatel (2000). Made in English by Roland Joffé, it has much of the feeling of a French movie. It was written by Jeanne Labrune and Tom Stoppard, and stars Gérard Depardieu as François Vatel (1631-1671). The film is loosely based on real events, and portrays the extravagance of royal and noble life in Early Modern France. Vatel is shown as a brilliant planner and bricoleur able to organize magnificent feasts and entertainments for the elite and overcome the succession of problems that arise in accomplishing that mission. Anyone wanting to open a fancy restaurant or become an event organizer should probably watch it.

The real Vatel had originally come to fame as the master of banquets and festivities for the French Superintendent of Finances, Nicolas Fouchet, but after Fouchet’s disgrace had come into the service of the Prince of Condé. The movie portrays three days of magnificence in 1671 organized on the Prince’s behalf in at attempt to secure the favour of King Louis XIV — the Sun King.

I assume that the love interest in the movie (provided by the wonderful Uma Thurman) is entirely fictional, and the manner of Vatels’ death is changed from the historical account. This short sequence showing one of the many entertainments provided for Louis gives a taste of the film:

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This entry was posted on March 4, 2014 by in History and tagged , , , , .
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