If you ask anyone what they know about Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France, most will quote “Let them eat cake”. As a response to the starving poor of the country she reigns over, it’s the clearest expression of either privileged ignorance or a facetious disregard of the lower classes. It’s worth noting then, that her most famous quote wasn’t said by her at all. The phrase originally appeared in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Les Confessions, where he speaks of a “great princess” who made the remark. Whether or not it really happened, the writing date precedes Marie Antoinette’s arrival in France. In fact, she was nine years old in a different country. Regardless, it’s what she continues to be remembered for. The Queen became increasingly unpopular leading up to the French Revolution, and her extravagant spending lead her to be called “Madame Déficit.” She was further maligned, partly for her gender and Austrian birth, ultimately becoming a symbol of excess and an callous monarchy. I suppose it may be fitting, then, that Sofia Coppola’s 2006 biopic Marie Antoinette is also misunderstood, and as far as I’m concerned, one of the most underrated films of this century.
It took me until early this year to finally watch the movie, because I expected a dud – and a bad movie is always harder to watch when it comes from a talented artist like Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation is my favourite film). The two things I had heard was that the movie had a willful disregard of any historical accuracy and featured so much modern music it came across more like an excuse for a two-hour music video then a film. The film had a fairly positive reaction from the French press, and a mixed one everywhere else – with most of the criticism focusing on those two points.