If you like French history but can’t understand French and hate subtitles, there are two recent British films worth watching. And by coincidence they have the same male lead (who’s neither French nor British).
Suite Française, a WWII romance drama set in a small French town during the Nazi occupation, stars American actress Michelle Williams (playing a young French villager) who falls for a German soldier (played by the Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts) while living in the house of her overbearing French mother-in-law (played by the English actress Kristen Scott Thomas). There’s also an actual French actor, Lambert Wilson, who brilliantly plays the role of the town’s doomed aristocratic mayor.
Going further back in time, A Little Chaos (Les Jardins du Roi in French cinemas) is a 17th-century historical romance starring the fabulous Alan Rickman as Louis XIV (aka the Sun King), Matthias Schoenaerts (again!) as the legendary French landscape designer André Le Nôtre, and Kate Winslet as a purely fictional character, the widowed garden designer Sabine De Barra. The plot centers around the creation of the gardens of Versailles, with Sabine’s “wild” garden style clashing with (but ultimately winning over) André’s more rigid style…and his heart, bien sûr.
Both films were panned by French critics (picky picky on the actual historical accuracy and the British accents), but generally well-received by the public. A Little Chaos is more lighthearted than the serious Suite Française (Nazis occupation stories are rarely laugh-out-loud entertainment), but I enjoyed seeing the multi-talented Matthias Schoenaerts in two very different roles (if you’re not allergic to subtitles, see him with Marion Cotillard in the moving drama, De Rouille et d’Os (Rust and Bone, 2012).