Farewell, My Queen: a palace teeters on the brink

This lavishly staged  and absorbing costume drama depicts Marie Antoinette’s Versailles at the onset of the French Revolution.  The story is set during the three pivotal days following the storming of the Bastille.  We view the Upstairs Downstairs of the palace through the eyes of the Queen’s personal reader, played compellingly by Lea Seydoux.  Seydoux’s performance is key to the movies’ success.  When Upstairs, we see her flattering the Queen and observing the Queen’s intimate moments – without becoming an intimate. When Downstairs, we see her unfiltered personality and opinions.

The performance by Diane Kruger as the Queen is equally good.   Her days are designed for her entertainment, and a battalion of servants scurry about to gratify every caprice.  In the days before remote controls, the ADD monarch uses her servant to skip from whim to whim.  She is supreme, but also vulnerable because she craves another person and because she comes to realize that the monarchy itself is threatened.

Virginie Ledoyen plays the Queen’s intimate friend the charismatic social climbing Duchess of Polignac.  In a secondary but essential role, Ledoyen exudes the sexual magnetism that has captivated a queen.

The fourth star of the film is Versailles itself – the movie was shot in the actual palace.   Farewell, My Queen is directed by Benoit Jacquot, and he makes Versailles come alive as a palace, not the museum it is today.  An army of servants bustle about to serve the royals and the nobles.  Even the ostentatiously clad resident aristocrats scuttle like cockroaches for a peek at the king or queen.  It’s a real treat – even those of us who have visited the Queen’s bedroom in Versailles haven’t seen it at night, lit only by the fireplace and candles.

Unfortunately, the ending wraps up the stories of the historical figures Marie Antoinette and The Duchess of Polignac but fails to address the fate of the palace servants who we’ve been following and relating to throughout the film.  I understand that Seydoux’s character is fictional, but we want to know what happened to those vivid characters that are themselves worrying about their own lots.

You might also want to read this superb Mick LaSalle review.

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