Last night I went to bed playing the trailer for Sofia Coppola's new film over and over in my head. When I slept, I dreamt of a rock opera infused with punk energy and Dangerous Liaison-esque debauchery. Today the film had its first public screening in France and I finally got to see Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, celebrating her eighteenth birthday to New Order's Age of Consent. Alas, the film did not live up to my lofty expectations.
Based on Andrea Fraser's hefty biography of the French queen, Sofia Coppola's film is both historically accurate and pure fantasy. I didn't mind the French and Austrian aristocracy speaking English, the simplification of political events or the many anachronisms (including a pair of pink Converse sneakers). Coppola's film is neither a BBC history lesson, nor a political drama, but rather a stylised portrait of a teenager whose rites of passage into adulthood are magnified by extraordinary circumstances.
Kirsten Dunst is the 14 year-old dauphine catapulted into the surreal world of Versailles: a gilded prison which would become her home until the French revolution took her life some 15 years later. Marie Antoinette is forced to live out her adolescence under constant scrutiny, surrounded by omnipresent servants who rob her of privacy. Her destiny is written by others, from the obligation to give birth to a male heir, to becoming Queen at age 19. Unable to achieve real freedom, she abuses the liberties afforded by her position: pink shoes and macaroons, gambling the night away and cavorting with sexy Swedish soldiers in the bushes.
Shot in the Chateau de Versailles in gorgeous pastel tones, the beautiful cast is dressed in sumptuous costumes, making for pleasant if slightly passive viewing. Kirsten Dunst is impeccable as the self-absorbed teenage heroin, kept in total ignorance of her role in the off-screen drama which engulfs her adopted nation. Yet there is not enough substance here to sustain the viewers' interest, or our compassion for this rich, spoilt girl.