Some towering absurdity and vertiginous silliness here … and also a bit of innocent enjoyment. Eiffel is a handsomely produced period drama, a madly Lloyd-Webber-ised romantic fantasy about the construction of the Eiffel tower in 1889 in Paris for the 100th anniversary of the revolution. Screenwriter Caroline Bongrand imagines (which is to say: she entirely invents) a backstory for the great engineer Gustave Eiffel, a grand passion that inspired him to build the tower as his own private Taj Mahal for a lost, secret love.
Eiffel is played with authority and gusto – as well as various frock coats, top hats and lengths of beard – by Romain Duris. In real life he was a widower with five children when he embarked on the tower, but this drama declares that as a young man he had a doomed love affair with the daughter of a snobbish provincial: this is Adrienne, played by the Franco-British actor Emma Mackey (Maeve, from Netflix’s Sex Education). Adrienne had broken Gustave’s heart by vanishing one day without a word; her father icily informs Gustave that she had simply lost interest in him. So in later life, he is astonished to encounter her again at the very centre of fashionable belle époque society; she is the wife of his acquaintance Antoine (Pierre Deladonchamps), an influential journalist and publisher who is in a position to turn political and public opinion against Eiffel and his ultra-modern tower. There is clearly still a spark there: so why, oh why, did she just vanish that day?
It is cheeky of Bongrand to invent this swoony romance for Gustave Eiffel; cheekier still to borrow the plot of Casablanca, with Eiffel in the Humphrey Bogart role, having his heart broken all over again when his Ingrid Bergman turns up out of the blue on another man’s arm. They’ll always have Paris, but then again they might have Paris right now. The whole thing is performed with relish and high spirits, and the digital fabrications of the Tower itself, rising out of the ground in stages with hair-raisingly dangerous structural work, are entertainingly contrived.
• Eiffel is released on 12 August in cinemas.