Marie Antoinette Review

The Film

History has given some people a raw deal and conveniently forgotten the sins of others. In this country, Winston Churchill is remembered fondly as a wartime leader, but the history books say litle about his mistakes as Chancellor of the Exchequer and the poverty they brought. Being misunderstood by posterity has often been an argument of revisionists for their respective subjects and sometimes these arguments hold water and sometimes they don't. On other occasions these arguments for a re-appraisal are annoyingly superficial and based on little other than minor details of common humanity.

This is satirised in that wonderful line of the Nazi scriptwriter in The Producers, where he states that "the Fuhrer was a terrific dancer" and I was reminded of that whilst sitting through Marie Antoinette and felt that the film added up to little more than a cry for understanding of a shallow young woman. To ask for a re-appraisal of the bête noire of bourgeois excess by stressing her humanity through her love of chocolate and presents is more than a little contradictory. That element of criticism was expressed in France by boos when the film was shown at Cannes, and the cultural immaturity of Sofia Coppola seems to be a proven fact given this facile rendering of French history and the patronising treatment of the Japanese in Lost in Translation. If Sofia Coppola's film is to be believed then Marie Antoinette was a well meaning innocent whose fantastic shopping binge of a life was brought to an end by the great unwashed and their badly dressed friends, she relegates the French revolution to an unprovoked incident of gatecrashing.
It is important to note what Coppola intended rather than what she achieved as the idea here is for the audience to put itself into the shoes of a young Hungarian noblewoman married into a political quagmire. We are invited to follow Kirsten Dunst as she braves the customs and politics of the French court, overcomes a loveless marriage and decides to compensate for this life by taking advantage of the luxury afforded to her. She is presented as a game young thing trying to enjoy her life and we are asked to share her bemusement at the rituals she must endure and her small joys.

The film works very hard to make the world of the the French court something that the viewer can empathise with, so the gossip and rumour is like the catcalls of the playground, and the alliances and protocol are the world of girl gangs and sibling compromise for mum and dad. The viewer is asked what is so wrong with the life this vilified woman led, and by extension we are meant to be appalled at her fate in history. This description rather implies that Coppola expects some work from her audience, but that isn't the case as this film has no intention to change the viewer or to ask them if their lives of relative luxury are indeed built on the poverty of others too. This, of course, is the same allowance that the film gives its heroine and with a complete lack of context outside of the candy floss palace of this woman's life.

And this is the sleight of hand of Marie Antoinette, that the woman lived outside of a world that we couldn't expect her to consider and therefore we needn't think about it. So in fact I can say that she was a great dancer, a great shopper and a lover of chocolate, but I can't say that she was part of excessive obscene feudal wealth which was based on human servitude and misery. One of the things I find most objectionable about Marie Antoinette is that it only embraces a victimhood for the obscenely wealthy who are in some perverse way a prisoner of their servants.
This is all a bit like those Hollywood biopics of the forties and fifties where we learnt to understand that Genghis Khan had a softer side and a western accent, and that Cole Porter was a confirmed heterosexual. Marie Antoinette may not have been the monster that history painted her, but the French Revolution didn't happen because of a lack of shopping for the masses but an excess of shopping for the few. To humanise this character by emphasising her modern love for luxury does not excuse her as it obscures the truth around her.

Coppola's film comes over as wrongheaded and a waste of great resources, it is spectacularly vain and full of itself, boasting stars yet having nothing real to say other than it's nice to have a lark. Great actors turn up, do some schtick and have a good old dress up in silly clothes. The cast is uncoordinated and undisciplined, and in Dunst's case nothing more than an eighteenth century Barbie doll that constantly looks bemused. Asia Argento turns up, wiggles her arse and does her crazy foreign bit, Rip Torn looks as if he is trying to recall the debauchery he enjoyed in the seventies, and Steve Coogan tries to find humour in a gag free script. The script can not decide if it wants to be modern or in period and the dialogue is often unsubtle, it steals nuggets from Antonia Fraser's book and drops them awkwardly into the characters' mouths. With this project, Coppola was apparently offered advice from her misfiring father who told her to be as personal as possible and this means that her poor script and misguided direction are supplemented by some spectacularly bad choices of modern music which scream out more about Coppola's love for New Wave music than creating a good score for her film.

In the end, the pop superficiality of the film drowns it in its own vapidness and the last 20 minutes remind me of the story about the famously bad actress Pia Zadora playing Anne Frank, where the unappreciative theatre audience shout out to the Nazis "She's in the attic". I think you may realise that whatever else history may have got wrong in Coppola's eyes even she can't avoid the end of this story, and I must say that I couldn't wait, to nod to Dickens, for the knitting to start. Marie Antoinette is misguided, shallow, overlong, and indulgent.

The Disc

Sony present the feature on a dual layer disc with 95 % of its capacity used. The disc comes in a fittingly pink box with a small insert detailing chapter stops and other releases from Sony. The main feature is presented anamorphically at 1.85:1 which is the original aspect ratio. The transfer is sharp and not over bright with the naturally lit film's colours never bursting or looking over saturated. The contrast is well balanced and edge enhancement is minimal. The print is perfect and I noticed no artefacts or noise issues in the transfer at all.
In audio tracks, I have something positive to say as this is a rare release which includes an audio descriptive track for the visually impaired. I don't know if this is Coppola's doing but well done Sony for including this. The two English tracks are perfectly serviceable, although this is not exactly the kind of film that screams out for surround sound with its use only having impact in the party and dancing sequences and for spreading the irritating soundtrack to the rear speakers. The sound is well balanced with dialogue never inaudible and coming from the front of the mix, there are no scenes where people speak from off camera so the surround is not used in this respect. There is no distortion, hiss or imperfections and the surround has good depth and dimension. The audio is completed with Italian audio and subs.

The extras include an almost half hour making of where cast and crew discuss the film as they complete it and we get to watch scenes getting filmed and hear the views of Daddy. Antonia Fraser turns up and explains the source material too. There are two deleted scenes with explanation of their place in the film and the reason for excision. There is a teaser trailer and a normal one, and we get to watch Jason Schwartzman in a rather self satisfied episode of MTV's Cribs where he stays in role and introduces us to his home. Five trailers for other Sony releases complete the package. The menus are still and clearly navigable if a little unimaginative.


I can see this film appealing to people who want to enjoy its dollhouse pleasures, but I hope that the seriously minded will object to its one eyed advocacy. Unlike Lost in Translation Coppola can't rely on a decent script or strong central performances and the result is her lack of maturity is painfully exposed. This film should never have been made but if you did enjoy it there is a strong chance you will be pleased by this product. A good presentation of an awful film.

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