Marie Antoinette
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Sofia Coppola
with Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Steve Coogan, Judy Davis, Rip Torn, Marianne Faithfull, Danny Huston, Jamie Dornan, Asia Argento, Molly Shannon, Shirley Henderson, Rose Byrne
release US/UK 20.Oct.06
06/US Columbia 2h03

Off with their heads: Dunst, Schwartzman and the kids

coogan davis torn


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Marie Antoinette Coppola takes a strikingly original approach to this historical drama (based on Antonia Fraser's book), combining a strong attention to detail with an impressionistic style that breathes life into the story in unexpected ways.

The Austrian princess Marie Antoinette (Dunst) is only 14 when, in 1768, she's sent to France to marry the dauphin Louis XVI (Schwartzman), a teenager himself who wouldn't consummate the marriage for another seven years. She has to leave everything behind--family, friends, clothing, even her little dog--for a precarious new life in which even her most intimate moments have an audience. She slowly learns to live in this bewildering setting, finding trusted friends and a release through parties and a lavish lifestyle that makes her the scapegoat for an increasingly disgruntled populace.

Starting with painstaking authenticity (most dialog and situations come from first-person accounts), Coppola adds a disarmingly contemporary perspective that will horrify period snobs. Although those truly interested in history will be gripped by a soulful approach that forces us to understand what this life must actually have been like. Even the infusion of New Romantic style is eerily appropriate--and brilliantly conveyed through Milena Canonero's gorgeous costumes and Brian Reitzell's musical choices. Sometimes both at once, such as when Bow Wow Wow's I Want Candy accompanies a swirl of colourful cakes and shoes.

But the film remains closely character-based, centring on Marie Antoinette's perceptions and experiences, and the people around her: her kind but clueless husband, her patient Austrian ambassador advisor (Coogan), her rules-obsessed household mistress (Davis), the life-loving King (Torn), plus an array of in-laws, friends, lovers and hangers-on. Purists may rightly snipe that there are plenty of terrific French (or Austrian) actors who could have played these roles, but Dunst and her costars never hit a wrong note, skilfully and engagingly demythologising their characters.

And Coppola's writing and directing are exceptionally clever, playfully examining history in the light of today's celebrity-obsessed, paparazzi-infused culture while staying faithful to the real situations. Each scene looks like a painting, but the characters act like real people. As a result, the film feels jarringly true to life, and finds something important to say beyond its examination of excess and privilege.

cert 12 themes, sexuality 15.Aug.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Marie Antoinette tony m, las vegas: 3/5 "Many reviewers have missed the crucial element that Sofia Coppola is making a comment on the contemporary world of celebrity and indulgence. To understand the movie, and appreciate it, you need that perception. Sofia Coppola also is relating her own life as a teenager and the daughter of prestige to Marie Antoinette's. That adds an especially personal perspective." (18.Oct.06)
2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall