Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall in Versailles during the chaos of the four days in July in 1789 as the French Revolution turned the monarchy upside down? Director Benoît Jacquot (who had the privilege of shooting at Versailles) allows us to be that fly…more like a mosquito buzzing through Chantal Thomas’ period-perfect 2003 novel. The story opens on July 14, 1789 when the anti-monarchist stormed the Bastille.
We see Versailles through the eyes of Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux), who is one of Marie Antoinette’s loyal ladies-in-waiting. It is Sidonie’s job to entertain Marie Antoinette with readings from novels, plays, poetry, even fashion magazines.
Sidonie Laborde keeps her head (literally) as chaos unfolds at Versailles. She takes us through the back corridors where the servants gossip and the rats surrey. Traveling through these dark, cramped corridors is where real life happens at Versailles. Behind Sidonie’s embroidering and reading we see panic, adultery, stealing and rumors circulating. The audience gets a real sense of what it must have felt like to live inside the palace.
A list is being passed around Versailles that 286 heads must fall. Marie Antoinette’s head is at the top of that list. Being a foreign woman, she was the first to blame for France’s problems and the one they hated the most.
We see the Queen as emotional and passionate about her friend Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). Marie Antoinette was known to have the most incredible love for her children, husband, and her closest friends. The movie focuses mostly on her friendship with Gabrielle.
Sidonie Laborde adores the Queen and will do anything for her, even agreeing to risk her life by exchanging identities with the Queen’s best friend Gabrielle de Polignac. It is Sidonie who is has true loyal love for her Queen.
Gabrielle de Polignac was loathed by anti-monarchist because of her close friendship as the Queen’s favorite. Gabrielle was known to have great self-confidence and beauty. She brought the Polignac family into French nobility. She was a social climber and the last of the royal favorites. Her head was on the list too.
Marie Antoinette was a romantic. She was loving and naturally flirtatious. The French did not like her…they never accepted her because she was not French by birth. She was homesick for her family in Austria and developed close relationships with friends she thought of more as sisters. It seems the French went to extremes to give Marie Antoinette a wicked reputation accusing her of having affairs with her friends.
Diane Kruger makes a stunning and very believable Marie Antoinette. Kruger (like Marie Antoinette) was not born French, their native tongue being German. Kruger also performed this role at the same age (thirty-four) that Marie Antoinette was when the Bastille fell. This detail brings an even greater authenticity to the movie.
Jacquot’s Farewell, My Queen is powerful and you can’t help but feel the panic and fear that the three main characters (Marie Antoinette, Gabrielle de Polignac and Sidonie Laborde) are feeling. It leaves you wishing you didn’t know the history of the French Revolution.
Marie Antoinette remains one of the most fascinating people in history. Here’s hoping for many more books and movies on the infamous, unfortunate Queen of France…the Austrian woman.