Marie Antoinette: infamous teenage bride, indomitable spender and promiscuous wench. Her Let-them-eat-cake-legacy is less than commendable, but Sophia Coppola’s forgiving portrayal rises above antique taglines.
Coppola’s fresh take on the story of French queen Marie Antoinette was inspired by biographer Lady Antonia Fraser, whose humanistic account describes an innocent girl out of touch with reality. The film begins with Marie’s rise to fame in 1770 – at the tender age of 15 – when the Austrian-born princess is married off as the material link between Austria and France.
Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst, “Elizabethtown”) arrives at the Palace of Versailles – literally stripped of her Austrian identity and separated from friends – to meet her groom-to-be, the Dauphin of France (Jason Schwartzman, “Shopgirl”). But he’s hardly prince charming. Coppola’s Dauphin is an awkward adolescent, as indifferent to his bride at the breakfast table as he is in the bedroom.
Marie’s leap to high-ranking royalty comes with responsibilities that she’s ill-prepared to accept. She justifiably finds the trifling customs and hierarchies regulating life in the French palace absurd, and has no shame in showing it.
Marie is met with a crowd of servants and royal contemporaries every morning as she pulls her bed curtains aside; tradition requires that she be dressed by the most superior woman in the room. On one occasion Marie stands freezing, naked and humiliated as still-more-prominent women keep arriving and handing off the honor of dressing her.
“This is ridiculous,” she says to the Comtesse de Noailles (Judy Davis, “Deconstructing Harry”).
“This, Madame, is Versailles.”
The intense court pressure to produce an heir sends whispered rumors flying about her unconsummated marriage, but Marie’s helpless frustration eventually gives way and she becomes more comfortable in the palace – maybe a little too comfortable.
By the age of 18, Marie is throwing lavish parties and bingeing on luxurious fashions, driving France into unrecoverable debt. But she makes no apologies in relishing her fortune. Marie fills the dull hours of the day with decadent dessert trays, an assortment of lap dogs and exotic entertainment.
And who can blame her?
Marie is sequestered in an isolated palace, expected to assume a role she never asked for and forced into a marriage with a man who won’t put out – no wonder she asked for fountains of champagne.
“Marie Antoinette” – which was shot on location at the Palace of Versailles – is less plot-driven than might be expected. The dialogue risks oversimplification, but it’s carefully chosen and chiseled down to create the effect of a photographic expos