Tuesday 18th January 2022

Marie Antoinette (12A)
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Reviewed by: Paul Fonz

History was never my strongest subject, so when I think of Marie Antoinette, only two things spring to mind: "Let them eat cake" and the guillotine. Unfortunately, only one of these makes it into Sophia Coppola's biopic of the much maligned French queen.

Marie Antoinette was a pioneer of camouflage
Marie Antoinette was a pioneer of camouflage

It probably goes without saying, that this film follows the life of Marie Antoinette, played by Kirsten Dunst, from the time when she first left Austria to marry the future King of France to the start of the French revolution. However, it stops some years before she was arrested, convicted of treason and publicly beheaded.

Unfortunately, Coppola's follow up to 2003's Lost in Translation falls well short of its predecessor's Oscar-winning standard. Or is it just as misunderstood as Marie Antoinette herself?

I found the film to be interminably slow and light on dialogue for the first fifteen minutes or so, and spent much of the rest of the film wondering if I was supposed to be watching a comedy, a romance or an historical drama. I'm still not entirely sure. The cast members sport a variety of accents, but only one of them speaks with a French lilt, and that is a very small child. The story is not entirely intriguing, and just as it starts to get exciting, the film ends. Or rather, I should say the film stops, because there is no real ending of substance.

The common view of Marie Antoinette throughout history is that she was a spoilt, oblivious, flamboyant spendthrift who managed to irritate the French public so much that they were eventually forced to decommission the royal family and cut her head off to boot. However, let's not forget that history is written by the victors, and the victors in this case not only despised the monarchy but did an excellent job of wiping out almost all of the royalists in Paris.

Recently, historians have theorised that Marie Antoinette was a very strong and brave character, who was the victim of harassment, rumour-mongering and bad press, which drove the starving public to victimise her further.

This brings me to reconsider this film as perhaps being cleverer than I initially gave it credit for. When you consider the modern view of Marie Antoinette, this story is actually a very accurate portrayal of her, shown strictly from her own point of view. As the film starts, she is quiet, afraid and shy. As she becomes accustomed to the trappings of royalty, she begins to spend wildly and party hard. Later, she has children and becomes a very devoted mother, before finally becoming aware of the plight of her people. The film reflects this with its quiet opening and jolly scenes in the middle, with the French people not making an appearance until the end.

Unfortunately, while this may be a very clever device, it is only really recognisable to those who already have a good knowledge of Marie Antoinette's life, and it does not make a good film by itself. All of which makes it very hard to give this film a rating, so as ever, I urge you to give it a whirl for yourself if you're curious.

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Length: 123 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Official Site:
IMDB Link:
Release Date: 20th October 2006

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