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Marie Antoinette
USA 2006
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Running time 123 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1.5 stars


Synopsis: In 1770, the 14-year old Austrian princess Marie-Antoinette (Kirstin Dunst) travels to France to marry the Dauphin, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). We follow her story up to the eve of the Revolution. 

There’s a common progression in film-making – first-time indie director has surprise hit with a small-scale but original work that picks a cult audience, follows-up with not-so-strong but commercially successful break-out effort  before getting serious bucks and making the kind of over-produced film which is the very antithesis of their original success . Sofia Coppola, director of the very good Virgin Suicides (1999) and the very popular Lost In Translation (2003), is right on track with her latest effort, a lavish, big budget and dreadfully boring account of the dreadfully boring life, or at least some part of it, of the ill-fated Marie-Antoinette, the last real Queen of France.

One shudders to think how much money was spent, most of it in the wardrobe department, on this gorgeous-looking film, shot on location in Versailles, when in terms of the aspects that might engage an audience – plot, characterization, atmosphere, performance, and so on – there is so little. In fact it is difficult to understand what Coppola, who wrote the film based on a biography by Antonia Fraser, and who has clearly gone to an awful lot of trouble, thought her film was about other than playing with her friends in very expensive fancy dress whilst airing a few of her favourite songs. In fact one could (or at least wishes one could) watch this whole thing in fast-forward since the story is at best, schematic and the dialogue, bar the odd line of courtly bitching, banal. Coppola gives the story a contemporary spin, even in one jokey scene when M-A is trying on some new shoes, putting a pair of Converse sneakers in shot, but this semi-allegorizing and the pop soundtrack robs the film of what might have been its only saving grace – historical atmosphere. 

Dunst is a perky Marie-Antionette in Coppola’s sympathetic re-imagining of the ill-fated consort as a spoilt rich kid but there is absolutely nothing in the script for her to do but forbear the ritualized boredom of the Court, buy shoes and, of course, eat cake. Jason Schwartzman’s Louis is a spineless dullard, Steve Coogan and Judy Davis are two-dimensional and Rose Byrne is grating as M-A’s vacuous party-girl companion. At 123 minutes had Coppola taken the guillotine to her film it might not have been any better but she would have at least spared us the long wait for the axe to come down. If the pages of Vogue are a world which fascinates you you will probably find this rewarding, if not, you'll be squirming with impatience.

 

 

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