Marie Antoinette (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This film provoked the most irrational critical response since Troy. In fact, it is worthwhile to contrast the critical reactions to the two movies. Troy was often criticized for being too historically accurate. It treated the ancient gods as bullshit, but bullshit the Greeks genuinely believed in, so events could be influenced by the mortals' belief in those gods, but could not be influenced by their actual intervention. In other words, the film basically asked "what set of real events could have inspired Homer's mythological reconstruction?" Many critics missed the entire point and responded as if the film's creators had somehow forgotten to include the gods. On the other extreme, Marie Antoinette received the opposite reaction. Its critics responded to it as if it were supposed to be a history lecture at Cambridge, and caviled about every miniscule historical detail which the film misstated. I guess there's no pleasing them. A film cannot be either too accurate or too inaccurate. It works like the porridge at the three bears' house. It must be "just right."

Just as they did with Troy, the critics seemed to charge naively ahead in the assumption that the screenwriter of Marie Antoinette (Sophia Coppola, who also directed) simply got all the facts wrong. That, of course, is crap. She knew the facts. She researched the script. She based the film on a work written by the esteemed historian Lady Antonia Fraser. To the extent that Marie Antoinette's real words are known, Coppola used them. And she was undoubtedly well aware that her story was merely the frivolous prologue to Antoinette's life rather than the dramatic meat of her story, which occurred after the royals were forced from Versailles. It's a safe bet that when Coppola decided which part of the story to tell, and when she changed the known facts, she was aware what she was doing, and did so for a purpose. I have no problem with that in theory because the facts sometimes get in the way of a greater truth. My problem with the script is that I couldn't figure out why she made the changes.

Start with the doggie incident. History has recorded that when 14-year-old Antoinette traveled from Austria to France, she was forced to surrender all of her Austrian possessions, including every stitch of her clothing. She had to undress in front of her new ladies-in-waiting and get redressed in French clothes. She was even asked to surrender her beloved pooch, but after much negotiation between the French and Austrian delegations, she was finally allowed to keep the dog. It seems to me that Coppola had an excellent opportunity here. Imagine various and assorted stuffy ambassadors, nobles, and protocol officers debating for hours, furiously negotiating terms and demanding concessions, and ultimately deciding the very fate of nations over a puppy. That could have been a very entertaining scene. Could have been, but wasn't, because Coppola decided to change the story so that Antoinette was forced to surrender her pet, crying, but ultimately conceding when told that she could have all the French dogs she wanted. Now why, I am wondering, did Ms Coppola think that was better than the true story?

Another example. The film shows Marie Antoinette saying courageously that she must stay at Versailles alongside her husband when all the nobles were fleeing the besieged palace. In real life, her bags and the children's bags were packed and she was waiting for her husband's permission to leave. It was Louis who decided that the family should remain at Versailles. This is a key fact in French history, because Louis's decision to force his family to remain was one that he regretted intensely, and one which would cause great suffering for all the people he loved. Antoinette's desire to leave was not cowardice, but just good common sense, a characteristic which her husband famously lacked. (She was not lacking in bravery, as all her future actions demonstrated.) Point one here is that I'm not sure why Coppola wanted a different spin in this scene. Point two is that this particular interpretation angered many people. The French people reacted to some of these intrinsic changes as Americans might react if a French movie version of George Washington wanted to chicken out at Valley Forge but was forced at gunpoint to tough it out. A patriotic American might get away with that, just as a good Frenchwoman might have slipped Marie Antoinette past the Cannes audience without being deluged by a cascade of catcalls. But there are just some things an outsider can't mess with or, worded another way, white people can't use the "n" word.

I couldn't remember whether the real Marie Antoinette actually took on any lovers, so I checked it out and there doesn't seem to be any truth to it. Oh, there were plenty of rumors. If there is any nasty rumor which can be circulated about any human being, there is probably a version of that rumor about Marie Antoinette. Some of her more notorious demonstrations of wastrel behavior spurred an entire cottage industry of exaggerations and lampoons of the most vicious and salacious kind. Some of them were based at least partly on fact, some of them were negative "spins" of the facts, and others were just outright fabrication. The rumors of her sexual appetite seem to be in the latter category. I could find no justification for any claim that she was unfaithful to her husband, and I can see no purpose to Coppola's having given weight to the unsupported rumors.

Having made those points let me say that Marie Antoinette is original, and is actually a thoughtful film. It is an attempt to portray how Antoinette became whatever she was, and to offer that portrayal from Marie's own perspective. She came to France as a 14-year-old girl, the youngest of eleven daughters of the empress of Austria, and she had never known life outside the court and her own family. She was immediately taken to Versailles and placed inside another completely cloistered, shallow, and self-contained environment, one even more lavish than the one she had left. Exactly how would we expect her to turn out? The same as any of our own daughters would turn out in the same situation. She became exactly what her environment made her. Coppola determined that the best way to show us what the experience was like for her was to portray it in completely modern terms. What would happen if Kirsten Dunst, a sweet and casual all-American girly girl who has grown up in her own sheltered world, were suddenly transported to the 18th century and made queen of a country where everyone lived in ornate palaces, abided by rigid protocol, and spoke with stuffy English accents? There would be pressures and pleasures, boredom, frustration, and loneliness. And there would be no way out. It would be almost exactly like the experience that Marie Antoinette had when she came to France from Austria. Dunst was basically playing herself reacting as she would react in the situations Marie was in. That wasn't bad acting on Kiki's part. This portrayal is precisely the one Dunst was hired to deliver. It was her task not to recreate Marie Antoinette at Versailles, but to show Kirsten Dunst at Versailles, to demonstrate vicariously to a modern female what it would be like if she, the viewer, were transported to Versailles and made queen. It's a fantasy film. The film is not supposed to be like Becket, filled with hand-wringing rhetoric about morality and politics, but rather more like The Wizard of Oz, or A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. In order to make the points resonate deep within modern audiences, Kiki plays a thoroughly modern woman/child, and the action is backed by modern pop tunes.

Does all that work? Well, critics could not have been much more divided, but I think so. The film held my attention from start to finish. It looks great, and it gives off the right vibe. I think the pop music is perfect because it's the kind of music Marie Antoinette would listen to if she were alive today. It isn't possible to put modern audiences in Marie's shoes by using the kind of music she actually liked, because that music sounds to modern ears like the kind of music a bearded 60-year-old professor would like, and that would present a "wrong" Marie to modern audiences, even if it is technically accurate. This is what I meant about the facts getting in the way of the truth. In terms of the score, Coppola made a good and daring choice. I understand Marie Antoinette better after having watched this movie and having thought about its ideas. I got a better feel for the character  than I ever did from any "legitimate" history - the film triggered one of those cartoon light bulbs that means "Oh, I get it." That's a good thing, isn't it? Isn't that one of the reasons we love movies? I know the script has altered some facts, and I'm not really sure why, but on balance I can see exactly what it was trying to accomplish, and my verdict is that it succeeded.



  • DVD features not yet announced.



Kristen Dunst is seen naked from behind once at a great distance in darkness. In another scene the very top of her bum is visible in a medium shot in good light.

The best "nudity" is not nude at all. Her nipples are clearly seen beneath a dressing gown.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: absolutely no consensus. Ebert (4/4) and Berardinelli (1.5/4) are about as far apart as they have ever been.

  • British consensus: two and  half stars out of four. Mail 2/10, Telegraph 7/10, Independent 4/10, Guardian 6/10, Times 6/10, Sun 5/10, Express 8/10, Mirror 4/10, FT 8/10, BBC 3/5.


The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It grossed $15 million from a maximum of 870 theaters. While it was not a blockbuster, the revenues per screen were quite solid, and the week two and three drops were small enough to indicate some decent word-of-mouth.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C+, a solid costumer with a highly original way of presenting the story. It's a girly movie, but it worked for me.

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