Obviously Xavier Giannoli‘s Marguerite, a French-Belgian-Czech co-production based on the life of notoriously mediocre opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins, has beaten the Meryl Streep-Stephen Frears version of the same story to the punch. The Giannoli film will play at the Telluride Film Festival right after its big debut at the Venice Film Festival, having shot in the Czech Republic between September and November of last year. The Frears-Streep version only began shooting in London last May, and will most likely open in the fall of ’16.
Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant in Stephen Frears’ Florence Foster Jenkins.
Both versions have been described as comedy-dramas, which seems logical. The Wiki page for the Giannoli version is said to be “loosely” based on the life of notoriously mediocre opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins. The Frears-Streep version, which is being produced and distributed by Pathe, is directly based on the Jenkins saga. What’s the difference? The Streep factor, of course. Many more people (in this country and in England, at least) are going to sit up in their seats and pay close attention when Florence Foster Jenkins opens next year than the Giannoli version, I can tell you that.
But the Giannoli version is said to be pretty good (at least according to Europe-based critics who’ve recently seen it). And the Giannoli will benefit from a feeling of freshness (something the Frears-Streep can’t hope to deliver). And it will presumably enjoy a hearty reception in Venice and Telluride and probably open commercially before the Frears-Streep.
Marguerite stars Catherine Frot as the Jenkins stand-in/titular character. Jenkins’ Wiki page describes her as “an American socialite and amateur operatic soprano who was known and ridiculed for her lack of rhythm, pitch, and tone; her aberrant pronunciation; and her generally poor singing ability.”
Boilerplate descriptions in various trade stories (including this one) describe the Frears-Streep version as “the true story of a New York heiress and socialite (Streep) who obsessively pursued her dream of becoming a great opera singer. The voice she heard in her head was beautiful, but to everyone else it was hilariously awful. Her ‘husband and manager, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), was determined to protect his beloved Florence from the truth. But when Florence decided to give a public concert at Carnegie Hall in 1944, St. Clair knew he faced his greatest challenge.”
This is roughly the Charles Foster Kane-Susan Alexander story, of course, that took up less than five minutes worth of Citizen Kane. May I say something? The voice of “Susan Alexander Kane” was horrid but sweetly pathetic at times. She couldn’t sing to save her life but she was trying so hard and endured so many lessons. But the singing of Catherine Frot in Marguerite sounds as if Frot is trying to be deliberately awful.