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Marie Antoinette - Review

Kirsten Dunst in Marie-Antoinette

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making of featurette; Deleted scenes; MTV Cribs style tour of Versailles Palace hosted by Jason Schwartzman

NOTORIOUS for being booed by the French at Cannes, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette is a strangely surreal confection that marks a sustained triumph of style over substance.

Historically inaccurate and deliberately so, the film was rounded on by the French for its blatant disregard for truth and for the way in which its young director opted to set proceedings to a brash 80s soundtrack.

Yet Coppola never intended to make a big, historical epic that conformed to political and historical perceptions of the young monarch, opting instead to adopt a more impressionistic approach and explore the story from Marie Antoinette’s point of view.

Hence, just as Lost In Translation was predominantly about a young woman who found herself lost in Tokyo amid a different culture while her husband went to work, so Marie Antoinette follows the fortunes of a young girl as she’s forced to cope with a similarly alien situation and environment during her formative years.

Her film is also based on the findings of Antonia Fraser’s biography, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, which offered a new and compelling view of the much-maligned monarch.

Kirsten Dunst plays the young queen, who’s first introduced as she prepares to leave a life of luxury in Austria to marry the French Dauphin Louis- Auguste (Jason Schwartzman) in Versailles.

Once there, she’s afforded no privacy as she adjusts to her new surroundings and is dismayed to find that her husband seems more interested in locks and hunting than consummating their marriage – a situation she’s expected to rectify for the good of the two nations.

By the time Louis and Marie inherit the throne at the ages of 20 and 18, respectively, they’re totally unprepared for the task at hand, especially since France is hovering on the brink of revolution.

Rather than explore the politics of the era, Coppola’s film takes a peek behind closed doors at how the young monarch may have spent her days, largely unaware of the volatile nature of the deteriorating social situation.

Her film is essentially a coming-of-age tale, set against the beautiful but surreal backdrop of life at Versailles.

Almost every frame is filled with gorgeous fashions and cake, while a brash, pop-based soundtrack blasts out songs from the likes of The Cure and Bow Wow Wow.

As precocious as this sounds, however, the film still manages to delight and provoke in different ways.

Coppola succeeds in her aim of offering an alternative view of one of history’s most colourful figures and draws an exemplary performance from Dunst, who transforms Marie-Antoinette into a flawed but hopelessly naive individual.

It’s also beautiful to behold, with visuals that consistently take the breath away.

As courageous as the film undoubtedly remains, there are flaws that are impossible to ignore. The historical lapses are difficult to forgive and the film does drag on during its middle period – creating the suspicion that the director could do with a little self-editing to remove some of her wilder indulgences.

With that in mind, however, it would be churlish to think that a film that prides itself on including so many shots of cake might not have become sickly in itself, for you can have too much of a good thing!

History aside, this remains a fascinating experience which, at the very least, confirms Coppola’s status as one of the most interesting – and adventurous – filmmakers of her generation.

It will certainly delight as many viewers as it disgusts – even if everyone may feel a little bit bloated afterwards.

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Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs 3mins