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‘Widow Clicquot’ Review: Haley Bennett Sparkles More Personally Than Professionally in Champagne Biopic

‘Widow Clicquot’ Review: Haley Bennett Sparkles More Personally Than Professionally in Champagne Biopic

Tom Sturridge is featured in Thomas Napper’s drama, which delves into the life of the woman responsible for the renowned champagne brand Veuve Clicquot.

Similar to the meticulous care Barbe-Nicole (played by Haley Bennett) gives to her vineyard elixirs, “Widow Clicquot” unfolds gradually. At first, it appears to be a saccharine love story, with Barbe-Nicole determined to continue her late husband François’s (Tom Sturridge) vision. However, as Barbe-Nicole’s ambitions expand and her memories of her marriage become more complex, the film gains depth, offering a more substantial experience than its brief 89-minute duration might suggest. While it doesn’t quite achieve lasting greatness, it leaves a memorable impact.

Set against the backdrop of Veuve Clicquot’s illustrious champagne history, “Widow Clicquot” joins the trend of biopics centred on iconic brands. While not strictly a promotional piece, it does inadvertently enhance the company’s reputation in a public relations-friendly manner, much like the others in its genre.

Erin Dignam’s screenplay, inspired by Tilar J. Mazzeo’s biography and enriched with insights from the brand’s archivist, transforms the iconic yellow label into a symbol of enduring love, female empowerment, and even early technological progress, albeit viewed from a less revolutionary perspective two centuries later.

Unlike more contemporary origin stories like those of Air, BlackBerry, or Flamin’ Hot, which reflect our current corporate culture, this film’s historical setting lends it the romanticism of a period drama.

The narrative commences with François’ funeral in 1805, leaving Barbe-Nicole overwhelmed by grief. Her determination is ignited when her father-in-law, Philippe (played by Ben Miles), reveals plans to sell his late son’s vineyards to Claude Möet. Refusing to surrender François’ cherished project, Barbe-Nicole pleads to retain ownership and continue his pursuit of perfecting winemaking. “Widow Clicquot” chronicles her journey while interweaving memories of her time with François.

As is common in biopics of this nature, the question isn’t whether she will succeed but how and what it signifies on a broader scale. Barbe-Nicole faces numerous challenges from the outset, including adverse weather, financial difficulties, and Napoleon’s stringent trade embargo, which the story navigates with the swift efficiency of a Wikipedia page. However, her most formidable obstacle is her gender, as men ranging from her father-in-law to her employees to her competitors doubt her capabilities and question her authority.

Veuve Clicquot’s portrayal of 19th-century female empowerment may appear somewhat straightforward, featuring a sympathetic heroine and antagonists who openly express sentiments like, “She, a woman, is not capable of running this vineyard.” If there are subtleties or ambivalence in Barbe-Nicole’s own feelings about her position, the script keeps them well hidden.

On the contrary, Barbe-Nicole’s personal life presents a more intricate and consequently more engrossing narrative. The couple’s deep affection is evident from their earliest moments together. In a voiceover at his funeral, she laments, “It seems impossible that anything will ever grow here again. A great hush has fallen across the vines. Your absence clings to everything.”

Flashbacks reveal the profound infatuation between the young lovers. Although there wasn’t initially a love match, Barbe-Nicole is captivated by this unconventional gentleman who quotes Voltaire, serenades his grapes, and writes eloquent love letters describing their marriage as “the secret to perfect happiness.” In return, he is touched by her warmth and openness, and delighted by how quickly she embraces winemaking under his guidance.

However, as Barbe-Nicole continues to pursue François’ dream business, the memories that surface become weightier, sadder, and more contentious. We witness how François’ eccentricities gradually gave way to erratic, volatile, and even violent behaviour due to untreated mental illness.

Haley Bennett’s sensitive performance draws us into her growing distress and apprehension, both for him and because of him. Simultaneously, Bryce Dessner’s striking score blurs the lines between past and present by incorporating sounds from the environment, making the shattering of glass an unbearable symphony echoing between Barbe-Nicole’s present stress and François’ past mania.

While the business aspect of Thomas Napper’s film, “Widow Clicquot,” provides its foundation, it’s the marital element that truly captivates the audience. As much as Barbe-Nicole is vexed by issues like flawed bottles or troublesome bubbles, these dry business concerns can’t match the emotional depth of her relationship with François.

Together, these elements craft a compelling and intermittently poignant portrait of an unintentional pioneer. Barbe-Nicole remarks, “When they struggle to survive, they become more reliant on their own strength,” referring to her grapevines. “They become more of what they were meant to be.”

This metaphor nicely parallels her personal journey, where she perseveres through numerous setbacks to become the world-renowned winemaker we already recognize. In the end, “Widow Clicquot” emerges as a fairy-tale romance, not between Barbe-Nicole and François, but between Barbe-Nicole and the champagne empire that proudly bears her name to this day.

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John brings five years of experience and a passion for storytelling to the world of film and TV criticism. Holding a degree in Journalism, he specialize in nuanced reviews that delve into character development and thematic depth. Whether it's the latest blockbuster or an indie gem, John's analysis offers a unique lens on what's worth watching.