Marie Antoinette (2006)



This was one of the first films we watched that was part of Sally’s collection. Her parents brought a box of her DVDs with them, and this was one of the first that we have watched. She was clearly impressed with the film, as it was unopened and still in its wrapping when we went to watch it.

Marie Antoinette is certainly an ambitious film, directed by Sofia Coppola, it tells the story of the young woman who became queen of France, Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst). She was Austrian royalty, but sent to live with her husband to be, Prince Louis (Jason Schwartzman) as a teenager. She was made to disown her Austrian roots and become a French royal family member. Her new husband has intimacy issues, meaning she struggles to do her one job: produce a royal heir. This movie charts her rise to eventual queen of France and touches briefly on her downfall.

This was my biggest issue with the film. It barely mentions the fact she was beheaded by the citizens of France, which is by far the most interesting part of her life. We get to see her go from shy newcomer to basically a French version of Regina George (with an American accent!!). The character is not very likable, and just when it starts to get interesting, the credits roll. I would have much preferred to see the aftermath of her arrest, but too much time is spent on her being queen of France, and usually doing a terrible job of it. I found it very interesting that Marie was meant to disown her Austrian heritage completely. I am sure this was the case back then, even now we have seen Princess Kate and our own Princess Mary have to give up certain parts of their past life, and I am sure it would have been even worse back in the days of Marie Antoinette.

Jason Schwartzman is good as her reluctant lover. He eventually does the deed to produce an heir for his country, but it takes a lot of convincing. Schwartzman is Sofia Coppola’s cousin, so it is nice to see a bit of nepotism running rampant in Hollywood still.

I am really not a huge fan of Sofia Coppola. Her biggest hit was Lost in Translation, which is found incredibly overrated. I did like some little shots she puts in this film. During a shot of Marie’s closet, we see what are clearly a pair of light blue Converse All Star sneakers. These were added to show that Marie wanted nothing more than to be a trendy teenager, just like we all did at one stage. This little shot was a fun reminder that this is a film and not to be taken too seriously.

This film is ok, it is nothing special though.

Rating: C-

I like this movie a lot more than I should, simply because I have a soft spot for the real life Marie Antoinette. It may seem strange that anyone would feel sorry for the “Let them eat cake” villainess of the French Revolution, but she was a woman who was unfairly maligned in many ways. After reading Antonia Fraser’s excellent biography of the often misunderstood queen, I was naturally interested in how director Sophia Coppola would translate this book to the screen.

There’s a lot that I do like about Marie Antoinette. It takes the same sympathetic tone as Fraser’s book, providing the audience with a more human figure to root for. There are many myths that still follow Marie to this day (for starters, she never uttered the callous phrase “Let them eat cake.”), and this movie tries to repair some of the damage. Marie is presented as a naive Austrian princess, thrust into the foreign French court where she was expected to fit in right away. She of course flounders, but eventually finds her footing.

But here lies one of the problems with the film– the character Marie Antoinette never changes. She appears to age (somewhat), but she never really matures. The real life Marie did, taking on a more political role as her husband suffered from depression. She was also a doting mother, going into deep mourning after the deaths of two of her children. The movie only briefly alludes to Marie losing her children and never shows her taking an active role in French politics.

This wasn’t a huge issue for me. I understand that Marie Antoinette isn’t trying to be a comprehensive or accurate depiction of the real queen’s life. But for all the effort put into actually making the audience care about Marie, the film nearly undoes all it’s good work by presenting her as a perpetual teenager. I can also see how the lack of political or historical context would frustrate some viewers. I spent a lot of time explaining the history to Ben during the second half of the film. Again, I didn’t mind, as the small allusions to the history peppered throughout the film were enough for me, but I concede that a viewer unfamiliar with French history might be lost.

I’ve never thought that Marie Antoinette was a perfect film, but it is not nearly as bad as some reviews claim. This isn’t an historical primer, and it does spend a lot of time on “fluff.” It’s a visual treat, blending historical fashion with intentional anachronisms. This take on Marie is bound to annoy the more stodgy history buffs, but I thought it was fun. If nothing else Marie Antoinette finally makes the French queen a human being, rather than reducing her to an aloof and uncaring caricature.

Rating: B-

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