Making the Grades
I'll admit the scenery is stunning, the costumes spectacular and the food styling deliciously appealing, but beyond the striking visual imagery, there's little to love about this marathon tale of France's most tarnished monarch.
Twenty-four-year-old Kirsten Dunst plays a na0xEFve and demure 14-year-old Marie Antoinette who is betrothed to Louis XVI (James Schwartzman), future king of France---a marriage meant to secure a strong alliance between the powers of Austria and France. At the border between the two countries, the young archduchess is summarily stripped of everything from her homeland including her ladies-in-waiting, her dog and her clothes. (A full body back shot of Dunst's unclothed torso is seen.) She is then outfitted with everything French and sent on her way to meet her future in-laws.
Within hours of her arrival, the wedding ceremony occurs and the whole court anxiously awaits the relationship's final consummation after the Archbishop of Reims (Lucien Rolland) blesses the marriage bed. Yet for all the discussion of sex in the royal household, the couple remains virginal, and anxieties, both in France and abroad, start to surface about the two countries political future.
The same can't be said about the king's quarters where Louis XV (Rip Torn) regularly romps with his mistress Madame du Barry (Asia Argento), a commoner who has gained the monarch's favor.
The pairing of the newlyweds, however, is of secondary concern when the King suddenly dies of smallpox and the kids are let loose in the castle. Courtly decorum goes out the turret, as frequent parties, rampant drinking, unchecked gambling and lavish spending become common occurrences. While dressed in disguise at a masquerade ball, the newly named Queen meets Count Fersen (Jamie Dornan), a Swedish officer with whom she shares an illicit affair (on screen).
Cutting her film just short of Marie Antoinette's well-documented beheading, Director Sofia Coppola tries to create an empathetic feeling for the imported sovereign who is too young, too distracted by diamonds and dainties or too unprepared to take on the responsibilities inherent with her role as a royal. Worried about her inability to produce a male heir, bored with the tediousness of daily court life and increasingly the subject of cruel gossip, the Dauphine wraps herself in girlish pleasures and distances herself from the regimented life in the castle as much as possible.
But all these leisure activities -- running through the meadow, lying in bed, unhurried boat rides and afternoons spent eating dainties -- soon make for tiresome viewing. There's nothing quite so boring as watching the fabulously rich idle away their time. Inconsistencies in the film also become problematic, like the jarring mix of opuses and pop rock tunes. Although the court speaks impeccable English with the occasional "merci" thrown in, the little blonde portraying Marie Antoinette's oldest daughter (Lauriane Mascaro) speaks fluent French. And while the new bride is demure in the royal bedroom, she frequently discusses lewd and suggestive activities with her closest friends.
The repeated inclusion of bare buttocks and scarcely concealed frontal nudity along with the depiction of excessive alcohol use and recreational drugs pushes this princess off the thrown for family viewing. But even for those intrigued by the iconic queen, this film's laborious look at her royal indulgences will leave many hoping for a quick execution to the credits.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Marie Antoinette.
At the masquerade party, Marie Antoinette and her party appear to act differently because no one knows who they are. How can concealing your identity do away with inhibitions? In what ways, might a person act differently if he or she were not concerned about being “unmasked”?
Marrying off their children was one way royal households ensured political alliances. Is this practice, or anything similar to it, still employed today? Do moneyed families want their children to marry equally wealthy partners? Or do politically powerful people look for similarly influential families to marry into? What other kinds of “alliances” may families look to make?
In what ways does Marie Antoinette find it difficult to fit into her new family? How can a person’s own family cultural, social, political or religious traditions affect their marriage? What other kinds of differences have to be dealt with when you marry into a family?