Marie Antoinette (2006)

(On DVD, October 2016) I’m not sure anyone was actively campaigning for a historical re-evaluation of Marie Antoinette (who never actually said “Let them eat cake!”), but she proves to be an irresistible subject for Sofia Coppola’s sympathy-for-the-devil approach. (Dovetailing in her latter The Bling Ring) Portraying a sympathetic young woman finding herself way over her head in the French royal court and the subsequent French Revolution, Marie Antoinette scrupulously ignores the less appealing aspects of the queen’s history (ending well before her execution by the guillotine, for instance, or ignoring the political role she eventually assumed) in favour of a poor-girl-lost routine. While lavish in its recreation of 18th century royal court (with numerous scenes filmed in Versailles itself), Marie Antoinette makes a play toward contemporary sensibilities through an aggressively modern soundtrack and a few deliberate visual anachronisms sprinkled among the pomp and pageantry of royal France. Contrary to some expectations, it actually works: it’s remarkably easy to empathize with a young girl forced to become the queen of a nation, even as she finds refuge in amusements more appropriate for her age, and then motherhood as a way to escape expectations. While it’s probably not a good idea to look upon Marie Antoinette as an accurate history lesson (Read Wikipedia’s entry for a complementary view of the character), it does plunge viewers in a very different time and place, with lavish sets and costumes to reinforce the strange conventions illustrated by the script. Kirsten Dunst is very good as the titular character, with some good supporting performances by Jason Schwartzman (as the meek Louis XI), an atypical role for Steve Coogan (as diplomatic counsellor) and a short but striking turn from Danny Huston. Even those who don’t fancy themselves fans of period pieces will find something to like in Marie Antoinette’s off-beat sensibilities and its compassionate portrayal of a reviled historical figure.

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