Widow Clicquot is a tastefully made drama enhanced by the intoxicating presence of Haley Bennett: TIFF 2023 Review

There’s a certain period-piece sexuality billowing through Widow Clicquot that brings to mind other such similarly-set efforts as Atonement and Pride & Prejudice.  And given that those films’ second-unit director, Thomas Napper, is at the helm here, it makes perfect sense that such detail and intimacy is adhered to; fittingly, Joe Wright, director of the aforementioned titles, is on hand as a producer.

Based on the true story of the “Grande Dame of Champagne”, aka Veuve Clicquot, Napper’s romantic drama tells the story of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot (Veuve is French for widow), the unlikely saviour of the champagne company she inherited upon the sudden passing of her husband; Haley Bennett, always a luminous, intriguing presence, taking centre stage as the titular character.

At 27-years-old, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin became a Clicquot through her marriage to Francois (Tom Sturridge), taking both the family name and the challenges that came with such an empire.  She would ultimately mature the taste and the reputation that Veuve Clicquot would come to be known for, but not before enduring her own tribulations from the vultures that circle upon her husband’s death.

Founder Philippe Clicquot (Ben Miles), seemingly looking out for Barbe-Nicole’s best interests, quite arrogantly assumes he can sell the vineyards and save both of them from ruin.  Despite her despondency, the Madame puts her strongest foot forward and commands a seat at the table, essentially, and takes control of the company, both financially and creatively.

Whilst the Madame’s entrance into the world of wine-making is one that came from her courtship with the more erratic Francois, which is why the film insists on dedicating some of its running minutes to their relationship, Widow Clicquot is a far more interesting viewing when it focuses on her business etiquette and a later relationship with Louis Bohne (Sam Riley), the company’s sales agent.  The film breaks its time in different time periods (the cast and adopted tone assisting us in deciphering which period we are watching), with the segments prior to Francois’ death never proving as intoxicating as their romance would indicate; even the suggestive sexual nature of Francois and Louis’ friendship is a more fascinating read.

Thankfully, Erin Dignam and Christopher Monger‘s script is aware of the ceiling-shattering mentality present to the Madame’s entrepreneurial mindset.  She proves a bold leader as she experiments with altering methods in creating the champagne, as well as fighting off society’s expectations for her to remarry, and weathering the seasonal changes that threaten to derail her process; the film’s dedication to such sequences as the fermentation process provide a true spark that wonderfully complements Bennett’s dedicated performance.

Outside of Bennett, very few performers leave much of a mark, however, and the film is a more alive production when it lets her take charge, with the romance aspect a less intriguing notion than perhaps intended.  But, fitting with its namesake, Widow Clicquot is a tastefully made drama that’s poised and earns rightful praise from its rousing temperament.


Widow Clicquot is screening as part of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, running between September 7th and 17th, 2023.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.