Marie Antoinette (2006) 

 

 

 

Director:   Sofia Coppola

Starring:   Kirsten Dunst (Marie-Antoinette), Marianne Faithfull (Maria Teresa), Steve Coogan (Ambassador Mercy), Clara Braiman (Austrian Girlfriend #1), Mlodie Berenfeld (Austrian Girlfriend #2), Judy Davis (Comtesse de Noailles), Jason Schwartzman (Louis XVI), Rose Byrne (Duchesse de Polignac), Al Weaver (Comte d'Artois), Shirley Henderson (Aunt Sophie),  Molly Shannon (Aunt Victoire), Rip Torn (Louis XV), Jean-Christophe Bouvet (Duc de Choiseul), Io Bottoms (Lady in Waiting #1), Cline Sallette (Lady in Waiting #2), Danny Huston (Emperor Joseph), Asia Argento (Madame du Barry), Jamie Dornan (Count Fersen).

Queen of France, wife of King Louis XVI

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

The movie begins with Marie-Antoinette of Austria being shipped off from her home to be the future wife of the dauphan (the future king of France, Louis XVI).  She is taken by coach to the border line between Austria and France.  At the border she walks into one side of a dressing tent as an Austrian and comes out the other side with no external trace of the Austrian court.  She is now all France, all the time.

She meets French King Louis XV and her future husband, as well as a number of other important French men and women.  At Versailles she feels very strange.  She is overwhelmed with so many people watching her every move.  She has left her mother, but in a very real sense she has a new mother, the Comtesse de Noailles who teaches her the etiquette she needs and is always there to correct her.  This "being watch" feeling is even stronger after she marries.  A whole crowd of people see them to their bedroom and tuck them into their bed.  And in the morning a group of women awaken her and get her ready for the day.

Her husband is a little strange.  The overweight young man appears to be uninterested in sex.  And he remains uninterested for quite a few years. This makes things very difficult for Marie-Antoinette for she is blamed by the French and by her overly-critical mother for the lack of offspring in the marriage.  Her mother urges her to be more seductive and caring toward her husband. 

Poor Marie-Antoinette is constantly the object of conversation and gossip.  And the gossipers don't even try to hide their criticisms of the young lady, who is pretty miserable.  She also has political trouble with the King because she has been deliberately ignoring his mistress Madame Du Barry.  The King puts pressure on her and she does finally condescend to speak publicly to Du Barry. 

At a masked ball she meets the very handsome Swedish soldier Count Fersen.  She is taken with him, but the meeting is brief. 

King Louis XV is sick with smallpox.  Madame du Barry is send away because the church will not take his confession with a mistress at court.  The King dies and Louis XVI becomes King and Marie-Antoinette becomes Queen.  Upon learning he is now king, Louis XVI offers a prayer in which he asks for God's help because, he says, "We are too young to reign."

Still feeling alien at court, Marie-Antoinette finds some comfort in a circle of girlfriends, gambling and shopping (especially for shoes).  Soon an adviser is telling her she has spent so much that she had nothing left for charity.   Rather flippantly, she says she will get the money for charity from her husband. 

The future French King remains clueless until his brother-in-law Joseph comes all the way from Austria to have a talk about sex with him.  He reports to his mother that the two young people are just "complete blunderers" and that things should soon improve.  And soon the Queen gives birth to a daughter. 

As a reward, Marie-Antoinette receives the mansion Petit Trianon which she stays at a great deal away from court.  She talks about the philosopher Rousseau with her friends in the country.  And they put on a play for a small audience.  She meets Count Ferzen again and they begin a brief affair. 

The first reports of the French people being hungry arrive.  Marie-Antoinette laughs at vicious gossips who are spreading the nonsense that she said "Let them eat cake" in response to the needs of the French people.  Instead, she has her jeweler told to stop sending her and her daughter diamonds. 

Things get worse for Marie-Antoinette.  News arrives of her mother's death.  She is now blamed for the terrible economic situation in France by being labeled the Queen of Debt.  And when she claps for at a performance, she is met with absolute silence and glares by the entire audience. 

The only good news is that she has given birth to a boy.  (But this is later off-set by the death of her son.)

A mob storms the Bastille prison in France.  Marie-Antoinette learns that her dear friend, the controversial Duchesse de Polignac, has to go.  She has become too much of a political liability.

A mob comes to Versailles and forces the King and Queen to return to Paris. 

And this is where the movie ends, and I say thank goodness, because I did not want to see Marie-Antoinette suffer any more.  The beheading of her husband and of herself would just have been a little too much to endure emotionally. 

Good movie.  I like the idea that the movie shows the revisionist view that Marie-Antoinette was not a monster, but a victim of the political situation in France.  Kirsten Dunst does a wonderful job portraying the naive, young woman caught in a terrible family situation and political situation.  And Jason Schwartzman gained around 40 pounds to portray the very shy and naive King Louis XVI. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

See Marie Antoinette (1938).

 

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