I have been looking forward to watching Marie Antoinette for quite some time. This movie was directed by Sofia Coppola, who also directed the heartbreaking Virgin Suicides. Both of these movies deal with females who become marginalized in a male-driven society. This truly is a shame, because God created women to be treasured and loved. Yet in this movie, Antoinette is only valued for her ability to bear an heir. Until she does, all she hears is criticism and how precarious her situation is. I still remember a moment in the Virgin Suicides. The character played by Josh Hartnett is finally able to deflower Kirsten Dunst as the “lead virgin.” Up until that moment, he was totally obsessed with her. When she finally made love to him, he abandons her on a football field. She does the walk of shame alone into her house. I remember thinking how unfair this was. After she gave away the great treasure of her virginity, she lost all possibility of being interesting to his character.
I had this same sense of injustice in my mind as I watched Marie Antoinette. Antoinette did not choose her course. She is sent off from her home so that Austria and France can have an alliance through her marriage to Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). When she arrives, you can sense her loneliness. She walks up the aisle of the court like an enthusiastic teenager because she is one! Her new courtiers seem appalled by her. Does she have to smile so much? She greets everyone with enthusiasm, which is quickly quenched by the constant gossip and disapproving looks. This is a society based on backbiting and social climbing. You get up by pushing others down, and Antoinette never fully accepts this rule, which gives her more appeal and eventually leads to her downfall.
Dunst plays the role beautifully; she is little more than a child. Her husband doesn’t seem too set on making the aforementioned heir, but instead of just sitting around for him to change his mind, she has fun. She claps at the opera (scandalous; applause wasn’t allowed!) and spends money on shoes, clothing, and jewelry of all colors. That she does this is totally understandable. Why shouldn’t she shop when her husband denies her night after night? Jason Schwartzman plays a great dauphin-and-later-king. He is timid and boring as can be. Antoinette and he later develop a comradery, which is more of a friendship. The two are friendly and affectionate to one another, but it had the chemistry of a Julia Roberts and Rupert Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding.
This is not a movie where a bunch of stuff happens. Stuff does happen, but it is watching Antoinette develop into her queen-self, which is the joy of this movie. She never becomes the sexless queen like Queen Elizabeth (think Cate Blanchett in the last moments of 1998’s Elizabeth), but she does develop a royal demeanor without losing her femininity. At the end, when the French storm the Bastille, Antoinette refuses to leave her King’s side, proving her strength and endurance.
A word in the soundtrack: yes, Yes, YES, Yes! I love the soundtrack. When the newly crowned King and his Queen walk down the stairs to the Cure’s Plainsong, I actually shed a tear. It was so great to hear some of these songs come back to life.
All in all, Marie Antoinette is a masterpiece, which rates as one of my favorite period pieces, along with the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudiceand The Affair of the Necklace.