Click here to return to the main site.

Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)


Starring: Milla Jovovich, Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway and John Malkovich
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: £17.99
Certificate: 15
Available 01 December 2008

Joan of Arc (1412-1431), also known as the Maid of Orleans, rose to prominence during the Hundred Year War after her victories over the English armies. Apart for her sex, which made Joan unusual as a leader of the French armies, she claimed that she received visions directly from God. Eventually she was captured by the English, following a skirmish near Compiegne and she was put on trial, by the English, for heresy. With the failure of King Charles VII to offer her ransom, even though her victories had secured him the French crown, Joan was condemned to be burnt on 30 May 1431...

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999, 2 hr, 38 min) is an adaptation of Joan’s life and struggles directed by Luc Besson (Subway, Nikita, Leon and Taxi), who co-wrote the script with Andrew Birkin (The Name of the Rose). The film won five awards and was nominated for a further ten.

The first thing you notice about any well encoded Blu-ray is the sharpness of picture and richness of colour. Besson uses his screen to frame many stunningly beautiful shots, here is a director for whom visual style has as much prominence as the script. One may have expected Besson to produce a straightforward heroic piece about Joan glorious struggle against the English and how they rigged her trial, out of base revenge. True there are elements of this with some well shot battle scenes and a tense trial, but what Besson has created her is much more a film about betrayal, morality and religious truth. Having helped push back the English the French, for various reasons, do little to help Joan - preferring that she be executed for political reasons.

Besson chose his then wife Milla Jovovich to play Joan. She portrays Joan as a reluctant warrior, never happy to carry a sword and kill. He makes some attempts at eroding her claims by introducing Dustin Hoffman as the Conscience, a visitor she receives when imprisoned. The character is never really explained, leaving it to the audience to decide whether he represents Besson's own doubts about her claims (there is certainly an edge of delusional mania in her performance of Joan) or whether it is supposed to represent the devil whispering doubts into her ear.

If the film has a fault it is due to a lack of clarity on the writer’s side. Are we looking at a judgement on Joan’s claims, a rousing war story or a condemnation of her treatment? The truth is, the film is all of these, spreading its narrative just a little too thin and losing focus.

Although the film is crystal clear with an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, you can't help but feel let down by the lack of extras, mostly because there aren’t any. Oh, you get a couple of tired old trailers - which if you have more than a couple of Blu-ray’s you will already have seen - and the option for BD live, which I’ve mentioned elsewhere only has enough content to keep you amused for about an hour and most of that is downloading time. The film comes with six European audio tracks and a bewildering choice of subtitles, but this does not make up for the distinct lack of content.

So in the end we have a good, if ill focused film, high on visual inventiveness.


Charles Packer

Buy this item online

We compare prices online so you get the cheapest deal
Click on the logo of the desired store below to purchase this item.

£13.00 (
£13.99 (
£13.95 (
£17.99 (
£15.99 (
£15.29 (
£13.97 (

All prices correct at time of going to press.