(director/writer: Sofia Coppola; screenwriter: based on the book by Antonia Fraser; cinematographer: Lance Acord; editor: Sarah Flack; music: Jean-Benoît Dunckel/Nicolas Godin/Steven Severin; cast: Kirsten Dunst (Marie Antoinette), Jason Schwartzman (King Louis XVI), Rip Torn (King Louis XV), Judy Davis (Comtesse de Noailles), Asia Argento (Madame du Barry), Marianne Faithfull (Empress Maria Teresa), Danny Huston (Joseph), Molly Shannon (Aunt Victoire), Steve Coogan (Count Mercy D’Argenteau, Austrian ambassador), Rose Byrne (Duchesse de Polignac), Shirley Henderson (Aunt Sophie); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Ms. Coppola/Ross Katz; Columbia Pictures; 2006)
“A visually scrumptious version of France’s iconic but ill-fated Austrian-born queen, Marie Antoinette.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer-director Sofia Coppola’s (“The Virgin Suicides”/”Lost in Translation”) period film is a pastel-colored visually scrumptious version of France’s iconic but ill-fated Austrian-born queen, Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst). It’s based on the revisionist biography by Antonia Fraser. It starts in 1768 from the unsophisticated Marie’s arranged marriage to the shy and withdrawn dauphin, Louis-Auguste, the future Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman), heir to the Bourbon throne, at 15, to her reign as queen at 19, and to the end of the “Let them eat cake” queen’s reign and the fall of Versailles nearly two decades later. But it keeps things MTV light, using pop songs by groups such as Gang of Four, New Order, Bow Wow Wow, indicating it never really is interested in getting to what Marie Antoinette was all about but more interested in being irreverent about her personal life.
Coppola shuns the politics and instead shows how Marie was trapped in the inhibiting prison-like atmosphere of the ornate, gossipy and stifling aristocratic protocol followed at Versailles, where she had plenty of hoop skirts, wigs, sweets, diamonds and shoes but was always discontent and never fitted into the stuffy foreign setting. The daughter of Empress Maria Theresa (Marianne Faithfull) was pressed by mom to deliver an heir to the dauphin and cement the much needed Franco-Austrian alliance.
The film’s first half is a colorful costume drama and palatial spectacle about backstage royalty and how Marie can’t get her socially awkward hubby to consummate the marriage. Feeling very much alone, uncertain of herself without her Austrian family at hand and only the rigid Comtesse de Noailles (Judy Davis) to look after her personal needs, Marie is restless and bored and compensates for her unfulfilled wants by spending money like a drunken sailor on leave.
The inexperienced Marie also blunders socially, failing to heed the advice given by her mentor, the Austrian ambassador (Steve Coogan), as she befriends powerless mean-spirited lady gossips, foolishly removes herself from matters of state and needlessly offends the frisky King Louis XV (Rip Torn) by snubbing his skanky but influential mistress, Madame du Barry (Asia Argento). Marie nevertheless delivers a girl and a boy heirs to the throne and succeeds to be queen upon King Louis XV’s sudden death due to smallpox, but her withdrawn behavior as queen alienates both her peers and the French commoners which eventually leads to her doom.
It never rises above a confection and only offers a shallow look at history, but it does give us an insider’s look (at least according to Coppola) at the pampered teen queen who only lived for pleasure and does make her look a bit more sympathetic than the way history usually portrays her–she comes off as the misunderstand girl who didn’t know any better and never grew up. But the film lacks substance to go down as anything but pop history–an Anglicized strudel that will give many a French viewer indigestion.
REVIEWED ON 12/17/2006 GRADE: B-