Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn, Judy Davis, Asia Argento
Director: Sofia Coppola
It has to be said that Sofia Coppola’s films are never less than interesting. With a visual and narrative style now easily identifiable, Coppola based her screenplay on Antonia Fraser’s highly regarded biography Marie Antoinette: The Journey. But she seems to have cut out a lot of the drama of the young Queen’s life, alluding to a bare minimum of complexity, and focussing instead on her endless parties.
Dunst is absolute perfect casting as the ill-fated queen, and the angle is fresh and contemporary, with a mostly rock sound track throughout. The director indeed succeeds in her mission to take the visual stuffiness out of historical drama. However, she seems to have overlooked the stuffiness of the script. The dialogue is mostly as wooden as the Trojan horse. Thankfully there’s not a lot of dialogue, with most audio taken up by the soundtrack, but the actors seem to have been given so little to talk about that when an attempt at chatter is made it is painfully stilted and feels totally contrived. A very strong cast are not really stretched – Steve Coogan’s role as Ambassador Mercy, for example, could have been played by anyone.
This seems something to do with the fact that Coppola has focussed on the aesthetic, with agreeable photography of plates of cakes, food, wine, and clothes to highlight the excess of Antoinette’s world; but any complexity of politics or plot, in such an interesting political time, is completely overlooked. This may have been a conscious decision on Coppola’s part, allowing a character portrait of the king and queen as a couple with absolutely no political nous or awareness of life outside Versailles, but this does make for a lack of drama and drags the film. Both Louis XVI and the young queen, only 20 and 18 respectively when they were handed the reigns of power, are portrayed sympathetically and as hopelessly naive.
The film will appeal more to a female audience, but for all its minuses it’s a brave film that should nevertheless be praised for its fresh and original angle.