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`Beaumarchais' succeeds despite leading actor's flaws

A charismatic character needs a charismatic actor to play him, so it's surprising that "Beaumarchais, The Scoundrel" succeeds in spite of its star.

For whatever reason, French actor Fabrice Luchini isn't quite as charming as he needs to be to play the film's main character, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, the 18th-century historical figure whose writings partly inspired the French Revolution.But fortunately, writer/director Edouard Molinaro (who directed the original film version of "La Cage Aux Folles") has written a very witty, farcical comedy-drama that plays fast and loose with historical fact.

The movie covers the most important period in Beaumarchais' life - 1774-1884 - when he wrote new versions of both "The Barber of Seville" and "The Marriage of Figaro," and helped provide arms to the colonists during the American Revolution.

As shown in the film, he also earned the enmity of France's corrupt House of Lords for his outspoken writings, which eventually led to him being stripped of his title and wealth.

But with some high-level support, he is given a chance to redeem himself - as a spy for King Louis XV (Michel Serrault). And he actually prevents a war between England and France.

Through all his trials and tribulations he comes to learn who his true friends are - his devoted third wife Marie-Therese (Sandrine Kimberlain) and secretary Gudin (Manuel Blanc).

As mentioned, Luchini's performance is somewhat cold, though he's helped by a fabulous supporting cast.

"Beaumarchais, The Scoundrel" is not rated, but would probably receive an R for some female nudity, a violent swordfight, some vulgar references and gags, sex (overheard) and profanity.