France is under the reign of the militaristic King Louis XIV (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is bankrupting the country with his unpopular wars. When starving peasants in Paris start to riot for food, he responds by sending them rotten food- although he later orders his chief advisor, Pierre (Hugh Laurie), executed for this. Meanwhile, the King wallows in hedonistic luxury while seducing a parade of women. The legendary four musketeers have retired from their posts: Aramis (Jeremy Irons) is now a priest of the Jesuit Order; Porthos (Gérard Depardieu) is running a Parisian brothel; Athos (John Malkovich) has a son named Raoul (Peter Saarsgard) who is just back from the war and ready to marry the girl he loves, Christine Bellefort (Judith Godrèche). At a festival, the two lovers are greeted by an older D'Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne) and wished luck, but just before Raoul can propose, the King's eyes fall on Christine. He arranges for Raoul to be returned to combat and killed in a suicidal charge.
In the wake of Raoul's death, Aramis initiates a plot to overthrow the King with the help of his old comrades. Only Athos and Porthos agree to the plan; D'Artangan refuses to betray his oath of allegiance. The remaining musketeers sneak into the Bastille arrange the escape of mysterious prisoner: a man in an iron mask. They replace him with a corpse in a matching iron mask so the guards will not know that the prisoner has escaped. They take the young man to a safe house in the countryside and unmask him: he is Philippe (Leonardo DiCaprio), the identical twin of King Louis. While he looks indistinguishable from his brother, Philippe is compassionate and gentle. Aramis reveals that he was sent away by his father, King Louis XIII, to save France from years of dynastic warfare. Later, Louis XIV was too superstitious to have his brother murdered; instead, he devised a way to keep him hidden: the iron mask. Aramis was the one who took Philippe away to be imprisoned, an act which has haunted him ever since.
Meanwhile, King Louis succeeds in seducing Christine, claiming that he ordered Raoul to be placed far from the battlefront. Later, Christine receives a letter from Raoul, predicting his death and saying that he forgives her for becoming the King's mistress.
Athos, Porthos and Aramis teach Philippe how to act like royalty, so he may replace Louis as King. Together they abduct Louis during a fancy dress ball, telling him that Judgment Day has come. Before his absence is revealed, Philippe takes his place. Unfortunately, Philippe's good nature gives him away; he spares Christine's life when she storms in and accuses him of murdering Raoul. D'Artagnan realizes something is amiss and forcibly escorts Philippe outside. They arrive at the docks just as Athos, Porthos and Aramis are about to sail to the Bastille with Louis tied up. The men collectively decide to make a trade for the brothers' lives; however, Philippe is re-captured in the ensuing struggle.
However, D'Artagnan is stunned to learn that Philippe is the King's brother and pleads with Louis to spare his life. Louis at first refuses, but Philippe, knowing his friends will come for him, bluffs that he is more terrified of the iron mask than death itself. Therefore, Louis orders him returned to it once again and placed within the Bastille. In the meantime, a distraught Christine is found hanging from her bedroom window.
Athos, Porthos and Aramis brush off their old uniforms from their days of glory and (with D'Artagnan's help) break into the Bastille and escape with Philippe. Louis, however, has prepared an ambush. However, the narrowness of the corridor prevents the guards from overwhelming the musketeers with their numbers. Determined to save his friends, Philippe offers to give himself up in exchange for their lives. D'Artagnan refuses to allow this, saying that he could never give up his son. He explains that he is the twins' father, and that it was out of fatherly devotion that he served Louis, not loyalty. He adds that Philippe has made him feel pride as a father for the first time.
The Musketeers and Philippe then charge at Louis' front line, the soldiers are so amazed by their "magnificent valor" that they close their eyes before firing their muskets. The smoke clears to reveal the five men still standing; all of the shots, barring a few flesh wounds, have missed.
An enraged Louis lunges toward Philippe and tries to stab him with a dagger. However, D'Artagnan jumps between them, and is fatally wounded. A devastated Philippe knocks Louis down and begins to strangle him. D'Artagnan, with his dying breaths, reminds Philippe that Louis is his brother. Philippe embraces his father as he dies, commenting that D'Artagnan was the one wearing a mask. Lieutenant Andre (D'Artagnan's right-hand man), furious at Louis for killing his mentor, is stunned to learn that Philippe is the King's brother. He orders his men to leave and keep their mouths shut. By the time another battalion assembles outside the Bastille, the Musketeers and Lieutenant Andre have dressed Philippe in the King's clothing and the Louis in Philippe's clothing and locked him in the iron mask. Posing as the King, Philippe orders the guards to take Louis away to a place where no one can hear his insane rantings.
The next day, Philippe, Athos, Porthos, Aramis and Queen Anne attend D'Artagnan's funeral, in which the three musketeers are finally redeemed. Philippe introduces them as his royal council and truest friends. With Louis (who had received a royal pardon) now exiled to a country house, France is now at peace under the reign of Philippe.
Music for this film was written by english composer Nick Glennie-Smith. It's also famous because of the appearance in the 2002 Winter Olympic games, where figure skater Alexei Yagudin became a gold medalist. He won with the program The Man in the Iron Mask, based on the movie soundtrack.
In Dumas' The Vicomte de Bragelonne, although the plot to replace King Louis XIV with his twin brother is foiled, the twin brother is initially depicted as a much more sympathetic character than the King. However, in the last part of the novel, the king is portrayed as an intelligent, more mature and slightly misunderstood man who in fact deserves the throne. In the 1929 silent version starring Douglas Fairbanks as d'Artagnan, the King is depicted favorably and the twin brother is depicted as a pawn in an evil plot, so the plot being foiled by d'Artagnan and his Three Musketeer friends seems more appropriate.
But in the 1998 version, the King is depicted very negatively while his twin brother is portrayed with considerable sympathy, with the plot to switch the two brothers being presented as an attempt to save France from a bad king by replacing him with the one man in France who has an equal claim. d'Artagnan finds himself torn between loyalty to his King and loyalty to his Three Musketeer friends; the way in which this conflict is resolved provides much of the dramatic tension in this version.
Furthermore, it is revealed that d'Artagnan himself is the actual father of the twins, as well as being dedicated to the interests of France. His paternal feelings therefore complicate his dilemma, as he hopes that his son will one day prove himself worthy of his role in life, admitting at the end that it is only when meeting Phillippe that he felt true pride as a father.
All historical persons and events depicted in the film are heavily fictionalized (as mentioned in an opening narration with the voice of Jeremy Irons), even more than in Dumas' original works. Historical blunders also abound:
The film is also inconsistent in its treatment of Alexandre Dumas' fictional universe: the plot reveals that d'Artagnan was Anne of Austria's lover (and hence the father of Louis XIV and of his twin brother), while none of Dumas's works even remotely implied such a relationship.
The character of Christine is comparable to the historical Louise de la Vallière, a mistress of Louis XIV's who, in Dumas's novel, is also loved by both the young king and Raoul. Her name change may have been so as not to create confusion between 'Louise' and 'Louis'.
4. Box Office Mojo Weekend Charts for 1998, weekend 1 to 52 Retrieved 2007-09-04