1 of 5 | Haley Bennett plays Barbe-Nicole Clicquot in "Widow Clicquot." Photo courtesy of WME Independent
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Widow Clicquot, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a sexy, romantic portrayal of sommelier history that turns a true story into a ribald period piece.
Barbe-Nicole Clicquot (Haley Bennett) takes control of her late husband, Francois' (Tom Sturridge), vineyard in Champagne, Italy, when he dies in 1805. Despite pressure from Francois' father, Phillippe (Ben Miles) to sell, Barbe-Nicole runs the business to honor her husband's wishes.
With Francois' funeral at the beginning of the film, Widow Clicquot effectively divides the movie into two timelines, before and after his death. Flashbacks show the passion Francois and Barbe-Nicole had for each other and for wine.
Barbe-Nicole never loves another like she loved Francois. They share passionate, rain-soaked lovemaking in flashback, and still discuss wine the morning after.
However, she does have other lovers. A subsequent love scene features nudity reflected in a night window, so the viewer can't actually see anything, but it sure feels intimate.
As a widow, Barbe-Nicole faces adversity on many fronts. The wine and champagne business is challenging enough, but the male-dominated business wants to discredit a female manager any chance its operators get.
Barbe-Nicole shakes up the establishment with her ideas on how to cultivate grapes and run a business. She waxes philosophical about vines and the taste of her beverages.
The film shows how Barbe-Nicole worked on specifics like the consistency of bubbles and determining trade routes. Setbacks become her burden as the person in charge who made the decisions that led to those setbacks.
Widow Clicquot boasts lavish production value filming at a working Chateau de Beru vineyard, plus historically accurate costumes. Epic catastrophes with the inventory unfold on screen, too.
The politics of the 1800s is in the background of the film, but provides important opportunities for the Clicquot business. The film presents Barbe-Nicole's perspective, having to justify herself and hold firm in the presence of male naysayers.
Wine and champagne aficionados should appreciate the detail and attention Widow Clicquot gives this mogul of the industry. But, the story of a pioneer persevering in the face of backlash is universal.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.