A Vapid Marie

While I appreciate what Sofia Coppola was attempting with Marie Antoinette, it doesn’t work. She took the approach that Louis and Marie were so cloistered in Versailles that they were woefully ignorant of what was happening to the very people they were to govern. Additionally, she was pressured on a regular basis to produce an heir out of her mother’s fear that the politics will shunt her daughter aside.

We’re treated to lovely images of Marie and friends eating, lounging, sampling the latest styles, and enjoying life at its most relaxed. The ‘80s pop soundtrack reinforces that vapid feel.

Those without a working understanding of the reality will take away the impression that Marie (and Louis) got what they deserved.

What’s interesting is that the director based her film on Antonia Fraser’s well received biography; she picks and chooses the bits that fit her limited vision. Between the Fraser book and Caroline Weber’s more recent Queen of Fashion; a very different Marie is portrayed. While I have read neither book, the reviews tell us more than enough to know Coppola skimped. There’s a concise and fascinating short history in the current issue of Smithsonian which I happened to read the same day as seeing the film.

Marie was thrust, largely ill-prepared, for life in France after being raised in her native Austria. She did develop a social conscience and the people genuinely liked her until the high price of bread drove them to rebel. The film even gets her long-term affair wrong and a richer film would have been the story of Marie, her lover the Count Axel von Fersen and Louis. Much has been speculated as to the exact nature of Fersen’s relationship with Marie but he was a constant factor in her life from when they met when she was just 16 until her death at 38. Fersen went so far as to try and protect them as they fled Paris but Louis rejected his help which proved a fatal error.

A pretty but largely empty movie wastes nice performances by Kirsten Dunst and Jonathan Schwartzman.