DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of Marie Antoinette (and PBS documentary), The Lion in Winter


Title:  Marie Antoinette

Release Date:  2006

Nationality and Language: Japan/France, in English when shown in USA

Running time: 123 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Distributor and Production Company: Columbia/American Zoetrope

Director; Writer: Sofia Coppola

Producer:  Sofia Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola is executive producer

Cast:  Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Judy Davis

Technical: Flat 1.8 to 1

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  meaning of marriage

With Francis Ford Coppola, you never know. They say that about Dino De Laurentis, too.


In fact, released in October 2006 a few weeks before the mid-term elections with gay marriage amendments on the ballots in eight states, the movie seems like a political satire on the historical misuse of heterosexual marriage. It starts out with a shot of Versailles, and the mother (Judy Davis), narrating, says “France and Austria were to become allies by marriage.” That’s what they did in European history, the kind you study for essay exams as a freshman in college. 15 year old Marie Antoinette was to be married to the dauphin (Jason Schwartzman) Louis XVI of France, who was 16 then. Standards for adulthood were much younger then, and there was no conception of consent. What was done would be criminal in the US today.


She is shown crossing the border through a fancy portal, being undressed and recostumed to enter France properly. She has the wedding, and the couple is put right to bed with Louis, all covered in draped pajamas. Now Schwartzman looks lean in his professional head shots, but in the movie his face is fattened, as was Louis’s, and you don’t see much of his body except fleeting glimpses of hairy arms and upper chest. (You hate to think that Jason may have been expected to gain weight and get "chubby" for the movie; actors sometimes have to do that.) Marie is being pressured by her mother’s letters to stimulate him, encourage him to penetrate and seed her. That is her role in life, to support other people’s political aims with her own body. She is a kind of prostitute. Instead of heralding the Biblical Song of Solomon, the marriage bed has become a house of ill repute, a device for advancing the social stability and comfort of others. The movie demonstrates, curiously, the arguments made for denying marriage to all but “a man and woman” by conservatives like Maggie Gallagher, for making babies, validating the transfer of property, and building lineages and political power bases. Everything except the love between the two partners.


You see very little activity “in the bedroom” except once there seems to be a conception, and the daughter (who looks like Andorra from NBC’s “Passions”) is born. Perhaps Louis is gay (the movie could have explored that more: it shows his interest in locks and in horsemanship, as if he really want to lead his own life and become another Leonardo da Vinci and is not allowed to). Perhaps Marie has her daughter and son by a court count (apparently Jamie Dornan) who in the movie looks relatively smooth when she opens him up. We don’t know for sure. But Marie flouts all of the conventions. She scorns the court (she tells one countess, “There are a lot of people at Versailles today” and walks away. She enjoys her gardens and livestock. She starts to learn of the mounting national debt as France (under Louis’s weak, easily mislead supervision) and says curtly about the starving French people, “Let the eat cake.” Petits fours indeed.


The movie telescopes the beginning of the French revolution. It ends with the exile of Louis and Marie, and does not show their well known capture, trial, and execution by guillotine. I think that the movie would have been stronger if it had added another twenty minutes to complete the political arc. The people had stormed the palace, and taken away the royalty’s unearned wealth with collective force and solidarity, an idea that would be noticed by the political left for years.


This film, though produced and distributed by a brand name major studio, is being marketed as if it were independent and foreign. It was a hit at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2006. 


Marie Antoinette (2006, PBS, 120 min) is a public broadcasting documentary that anticipates Sofia Coppola's film from Columbia later this year. The documentary tells her story, of her grooming from birth in Austria to be married to the dauphin of France, Louis XIV, who would have great difficulty consummating the marriage (the narrative goes into physical detail).  She would leave a sheltered life, never seeing the ocean. In the French Revolution, everything would be confiscated from her by force, and she would wind up in a tribunal, that would order her moralistic sacrifice on the guillotine. The documentary reenacts the execution and covers her time in prison, even the letters she wrote, up to that time.


The Lion in Winter (1968, MGM / Avco-Embassy, dir. Anthony Harvey, play by James Goldman, 135 min, PG-13). Christmas in 1183 in England, it looks brown and dreary, without snow. King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) summons his imprisoned wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn), his mistress Alais (Jane Merrow) and three sons (Richard, Goeffrey, and John, played by Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, and Nigel Terry), and Alais 's brother King Philip (Timothy Dalton) to settle a family feud. What follows looks like a stage play in Cinemascope (and somewhat more of an art film than the usual spectacle), surprisingly gritty in appearance, but with great brass and choral music by John Barry, with an interesting harmonic style resembling Vaughn Williams, loud and virile. As the play develops, we learn of the complex rivalries and the use of marriage and sexual intercourse, and lineage, to transfer property and power. It bears watching today because it shows the old fashioned thinking about the institutional function of marriage, relevant to today's debate on gay marriage. Eleanor has many great lines, like "Thank you for letting me out of jail..... Henry, I have a confession. I don't much like our children." or "Can't we love one another a little? That's where peace begins."  Philip stages a confrontation with Henry and the sons, hiding one of them behind draperies, challenging him as to which one loves him the most. Philip describes his own temperament as "tidal", an odd metaphor, and comments on his own handsomeness as a boy growing into a desirable young man.  All very leading. Finally, there is a confrontation with Eleanor where Henry claims that all of his sons are illegitimate. No wonder Eleanor doesn't love them and has become a political schemer. This one definitely deserves to be a TCM "great movie."  




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