DeGaulle is the first biopic dedicated to the historical figure of the first President of the Fifth Republic. To avoid telling the general’s story linearly, director Gabriel Bomin chose to count the weeks leading up to the roll call of June 18, 1940, drawing inspiration from the British film The speech of a king. The feature film remains faithful to historical reality as we know it but allows itself some small anachronisms (in particular an airplane with three white stripes whose sign did not exist before 1944) and liberties with reality. Thus, the Charles de Gaulle Foundation and his family were not consulted (but were informed of the project), so that the film would not be “hagiographic”. The personality of Yvonne de Gaulle is less known, there are also more liberties that have been taken with this character.
So that DeGaulle is as faithful as possible to historical reality, director Gabriel Bomin has gone through biographies, history books, more personal accounts such as those of his son, and the letters that Charles and Yvonne exchanged daily. This served as the fundamental basis for writing the screenplay for the film, which combines historical moments and scenes from intimate life. “Afterwards, within all that, you have to make choices, and above all, you have to invest the spaces of fiction and bring them to life with honesty and resemblance”, he conceded in an interview with Linternaute.com at the time of the release of the film. Certain moments were thus imagined: if Anne, the couple’s daughter, had Down’s syndrome, the director and the screenwriter imagined the scene where Yvonne De Gaulle takes the (existing) photo of her husband with his daughter in her arms at the beach.
On his side, Lambert Wilson also confessed to Linternaute “not to have tried to imitate [Charles de Gaulle]”. “I find that it is not a very interesting exercise. The perfect imitation is entertaining for a while, but you can miss the point. I find that it is more important to give a feeling, a vibration of the character and to make understand what moves him.” However, and the actor admits it himself, the work of incarnation was more complicated to shoot the scenes of intimate life than the scenes where the character is in his traditional military costume well known to the public: “We have to make decisions where there is no information at all, except for the letters, their correspondence, this their son described the family situation and the atmosphere there, etc. […] We have responsibilities, if not vis-à-vis family members, we are still obliged not to do anything. And at the same time, you have to be imaginative, invent their body language.”
A historical French figure of the 20th century, Charles de Gaulle had never yet had the right to an adaptation of his life in the cinema. Only TV movies had tried the exercise. It is now done with De Gaulle, released in cinemas on March 4, 2020. Worn by Lambert Wilson and Isabelle Carre the feature film looks back on the few weeks that led to the general’s departure for London and the roll call of June 18, 1940.
Synopsis – In June 1940, Marshal Pétain wants to stop the armed struggle against Germany. The chairman of the council Paul Reynaud and General de Gaulle want to continue the fight but are not heard. The armistice is signed. De Gaulle decides to go to London to seek help from Prime Minister Winston Churchill and thus continue the conflict that has become global. For her part, Yvonne, his wife, sees the enemy advancing dangerously and therefore decides to take the road with their children. In England, the general remains without news of his family and is about to deliver a speech that will change the course of his life and of history.
Critics were relatively satisfied with De Gaulle when it was released in March 2022. This “four-star biopic” for Culturebox, considers the challenge “taken up with panache”, while La Croix hails “a moving film about the dark hours of the spring of 1940 which offers a sentimental vision of a single strategist against all”. The bet is also successful for Télé-Loisirs, which salutes “an ambitious biopic produced as a political thriller and providing real dramatic tension”. Overall, Lambert Wilson’s interpretation is hailed by critics, Les Inrocks judging him “inhabited” by his character.
However, not everyone is convinced by the emotion of the film. Le Parisien criticizes De Gaulle in particular for “the flatness of the historical narrative, which is too classic”. For this media, the feature film “lack of breath” and “De Gaulle does not fit into the history … of cinema”. An opinion shared by the specialized media Première deplores a “stuck biopic”: “Gabriel Le Bomin confirms the difficulty of making the general a great figure of fiction”. De Gaulle should, however, make curious lovers of the genre, or those who wish to immerse themselves in this complex period of our history.