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Gustave Eiffel, played by Romain Duris, states “Life taught me to avoid surprises” as he displays the model of his iconic tower to investors, outlining pioneering designs to protect it from the weather. However, lack of invention is precisely the problem with Eiffel.

This is a semi-fictional, “freely inspired by a true story” account of the conception and construction of the French monument and the love affair that (the film posits) ran through Eiffel’s life. Emma Mackey from Sex Education plays Adrienne, an upper-class woman Eiffel fell for as a boy who he bumps into again years later when the building of his eponymous tower is underway. The hitch? She’s married now.

It’s not exactly an earth-shattering love story. Mackey shines in her first French-speaking role; it’s easy to see why Adrienne seems so extraordinary through Eiffel’s eyes — but she’s underused, and there are not enough sparks between her surplus of charisma and Duris’ dearth of it. Her character flirts dangerously with ‘manic pixie dream girl’ territory at times, particularly in flashbacks to their youth. She becomes more myth than person — which might be acceptable poetic licence-wise for Eiffel s narrative — but makes for unsatisfying viewing.

There are some nice moments visually — a single take that follows Adrienne and Gustave on to a dancefloor ramps up both the tension and their chemistry; shots of them sitting atop the half-built tower at golden hour are lovely — but they get lost amid the film’s general dreariness. It may well be suitable for the period, but that sepia-toned aesthetic sucks much of the life out of what should be a swooning story.

More interesting still are the bits about how this landmark was constructed: the politics; Parisians baulking at what they saw as an eyesore, Eiffel’s safety-first, invention-heavy approach to architecture, a finger-biting sequence in which we watch him and his team try and get the base of the tower exactly level. The nuts and bolts of bringing this thing into being are far more fascinating than the film’s guesswork regarding why he built it — a feeling not helped by a final shot that may induce eye-rolling.

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