With thumpingly modern soundtrack, vibrant candy-coloured costuming, intriguing casting and lush cinematography, Marie Antoinette presents a thought-provoking peek into the life of the young Queen of France. Following her critically acclaimed film ‘Lost in Translation’, expectations were high for Sophia Coppola to once again deliver the goods. However since its release, Marie Antoinette has met with mixed reviews and the film has been unfairly attacked for its perceived ‘historical inaccuracy’. After all this is still a movie, and while it is one based on historical events, some creative licence is surely still to be expected.
Aside from the fact that Marie Antoinette was a Queen, she was also a woman, and it is this aspect which is the focus of Coppola’s film. Like any person drawn from history, details of their character, their emotions and response to life challenges and opportunities are open to interpretation. The Marie Antoinette of this film is portrayed as affectionate, socially confident, sometimes self-indulgent, a fun-lover and someone who tends to follow her heart over her head.
In a union designed to broker a strong bond between the enemy countries of Austria and France, the fourteen-year-old Archduchess of Austria, Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna (Kirsten Dunst) is betrothed to the young Dauphin of France (Jason Schwartzman). Following a symbolic crossing-over ceremony where the Archduchess leaves behind everything belonging to the foreign court, she is reborn as Marie Antoinette.
Thrust into the Royal court in Versailles, Marie Antoinette is set adrift in unfamiliar waters. Not only does she have to contend with trying to understand the fickle traditions of French aristocracy, she must also find a respected place amongst the often shallow and vicious women of court. On a personal level she struggles to find some semblance of a relationship with her often cold, immature and indifferent husband, is dealing with her growth into womanhood, and balancing family pressure to solidify the union between Austria and France with the birth of an heir.
Struggling to fit within the world of France’s structured court traditions and the often overbearing behaviours required of individuals, Marie Antoinette finds solace in the luxurious excesses of gambling, shopping, hairstyling, eating and partying (where all manner of temptations are discovered). With time though she does become more inwardly focussed, finding a new sense of peace with her growing family and especially within her own private sanctuary on the grounds of Versailles, Petit Trianon.
Even though her spending is curbed, the legend of Marie Antoinette’s excessive lifestyle continues to grow and becomes a particular focus for the people of France as the gap between the privileged and the poor continues to widen. While her inexperienced husband spends more and more public money on foreign wars, Marie Antoinette becomes an easy scapegoat for all the woes of the kingdom.
The French Revolution rises into full force, with an angry mob marching from Paris to Versailles. With most of the aristocracy fleeing the country, the royal family resolves to stay. However the growing violence and frenzy of the mob forces them to abandon the palace, and it is here that we leave the story of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. While we see them escape unharmed, Coppola infuses these final shots with a real sense of disquiet, like the calm before a brutal and violent storm is unleashed.
Unlike the cake which Marie Antoinette is often thought to have suggested the peasants eat if they have no bread, Sophia Coppola merely offers us a single slice of the Queen’s rich life, but it is as decadent, intricate and finely served as we could hope for.