Film Review - Let them eat cake - By Ruth Sharpe.jpg

Film Review – Let them eat cake – By Ruth Sharpe

AFTER THE success of The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, director Sofia Coppola has taken on a whole new challenge with Marie Antoinette. The film is a modern interpretation of the Queen of France, who was executed by guillotine for treason at the height of the French Revolution.

Marie Antoinette is one of the most famous monarchs in history, famed for her excesses and controversy in the midst of the 16th century. The film is largely based on the book by Lady Antonia Fraser, Marie Antoinette; The Journey.

The Austrian princess, played by Kirsten Dunst, is sent to France in 1770, at the tender age of 14, to marry the 15-year-old future king of France, Louis XVI (Schwartzman). As in Coppola’s previous features, the film is based on cultural dislocation and social alienation. The two young monarchs are at a complete loss as to how to rule a country and are thrown into a situation where they have little or no control of their destiny.

Although reluctant to start with, Antoinette quickly embraces her new lifestyle and is portrayed as a rich, powerful and fabulous material girl, who loves to overindulge. Although the queen is seen as an unpopular figure, especially in France, Coppola takes a very sympathetic point of view to the monarch and shows how she was exploited by her ambitious courtiers, who sought to use her position for their own advantage.

Despite overwhelming pressure, the couple do not consummate their marriage for seven years due to Louis’ unwillingness. Once they eventually do have a child, a girl christened Marie Thérèse Charlotte, Marie devotes herself to her and we witness the maturing of the young queen.

Aside from the mounting pressure on the young bride to produce an heir, there is very little plot here; palace intrigue, political strategising, scandal and accounts of growing unrest in the country are all but forsaken, instead the focus is on the repetitive rituals of royal life and the virtual cocoon in which Antoinette lives.

Coppola obviously chose to spend her 40 million dollar budget on production. The team were given unprecedented access to the palace of Versailles and many of the scenes in the film take place where the actual event happened in the 16th century. Often scenes occur without a word of dialogue, although these moments manage to be some of the most poignant.

Dunst produces an array of innocence as the doomed queen, Schwartzman grows appreciably into his problematic role as the initially disinterested, uncommunicative dauphin and the supporting cast is solid with Rip Torn projecting vitality and a strong regal presence as King Louis XV.

Marie Antoinette is ultimately a portrayal of a silly teenager, who embodied a corrupt absolutionist state in its terminal decadence. The tragedy is her unfair death at a time when she was beginning to understand the corrupt world she had been thrown into. Coppola’s mix of the historic and the contemporary makes a pleasing and fascinating insight into a corrupt monarchy.

RATING:    * * *

*   missable

* *   reasonable

* * *   entertaining

* * * *   very good

* * * * * outstanding