Dauphin of France  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Marie Antoinette is a 2006 biographical film, written and directed by Sofia Coppola. It is loosely based on the life of the titular French queen in the years leading up to the French Revolution. It won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design. It was released in the United States on October 20, 2006, by Columbia Pictures.

Plot summary

Maria Antonia Josepha Joanna (Kirsten Dunst), affectionately known as Antoine or Antoinette, is the beautiful, charming, but naïve, 14-year-old youngest daughter of Austria's empress Maria Theresa (Marianne Faithfull). She is selected by her mother to marry her second cousin, the Dauphin of France, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman), and seal an alliance between the two rival countries. On a small island in the middle of the Rhine, a symbolic crossing-over ceremony takes place. Per tradition, the soon-to-be Dauphine must relinquish anything belonging to the foreign court from which she comes; this includes not only all her clothing and personal effects, but also her friends, ladies-in-waiting, and even her dog. Emerging from out of a tent onto the French side of the river, Maria Antonia becomes the Dauphine Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette soon meets Louis XV (Rip Torn), her husband the Dauphin, and his aunts Mesdames Tantes, Aunt Victoire (Molly Shannon) and Aunt Sophie (Shirley Henderson). After very little time spent getting used to her new surroundings, Marie Antoinette and the Dauphin Louis are married in person. Toasts are drunk to their happy marriage and they are encouraged to produce an heir as soon as possible. On their wedding night, after the consecration of their marriage bed, the royal household leaves, waiting in anticipation. The next day it is reported to the King that 'nothing happened'.

As if an increasingly fruitless marriage weren't problematic enough, Marie Antoinette is finding Versailles to be very different from Vienna. Courtly life at Versailles is stifling for the Dauphine, who is never without an unwanted entourage of servants and noblewomen who neither know her nor care for her. The courtiers disdain Marie Antoinette as a foreigner – an Austrian, no less – and consistently blame her for not having produced an heir.

The Court in France is rife with gossip. The King's mistress, Madame du Barry (Asia Argento), is the least liked among the ladies at court, particularly because Louis XV had made her his maîtresse-en-titre in spite of her lowly birth. The king had also created her a comtesse. Marie Antoinette is encouraged by Mesdames Tantes not to talk to her. Rumor also has it that Marie Antoinette has no love whatsoever for her husband; she is looked upon by many as a cold and distant Austrian, even though she is portrayed as being warm and affectionate to those around her. Marie Antoinette ruffles more feathers by defying the high formality of the French court. She accompanies her husband and his friends on hunting excursions, passing out food to them and occasionally to the animals, claps at the opera, and often snubs other members of the aristocracy and royal family. She receives a letter from her mother, Maria Theresa, the Holy Roman Empress, warning her that an unconsummated marriage could be easily annulled and encouraging her to inspire the Dauphin to sexual fervour. That night, Marie Antoinette attempts to seduce her husband but her advances are rebuffed.

Time passes in the same fashion and Marie Antoinette's mother continues to write to her giving advice on how to impress and seduce the Dauphin; also telling her to stop snubbing Madame du Barry as this is akin to criticizing the King's behavior. The Court continues to snipe at Madame du Barry, criticizing her fashion and her behavior, demeaning her as a harlot whose title was bought for her by the King. Marie Antoinette finally condescends to speak to Madame du Barry, remarking at a reception that, "There are a lot of people at Versailles today." As she leaves with Ambassador Mercy, she remarks that those would be the last words she would ever say to du Barry.

Marie Antoinette finally surrounds herself with a few confidantes and begins to adjust to her new life. She finds solace in buying lavish gowns and shoes, eating elaborate cakes and pastries (produced for the film by Ladurée), and gambling with her ladies. One night, she, her husband, and some friends go incognito to a masked ball in Paris, where they continue in their frivolity. There she meets Count Axel von Fersen for the first time.

After Louis XV passes away, the new king Louis XVI and his wife kneel down and ask for God's help because they fear they are too young to reign. Louis XVI is crowned King of France and Marie Antoinette accompanies him to Reims for the coronation ceremony.

Despite the growing poverty and unrest among the French working class, Marie Antoinette continues her spending spree and remains indifferent. The new King is young and inexperienced and begins spending more money on foreign wars, sending France even further into debt.

Marie Antoinette's brother, the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (Danny Huston) comes to visit, counseling her against her constant parties and associations, but she fails to heed his advice. Joseph then meets the King at the Royal Zoo and (in the presence of an African elephant using its trunk to play with the King's buttons) explains to him the "mechanics" of sexual intercourse in terms of "key-making" – as one of the King's favorite hobbies is locksmithing. That night, the King and Marie Antoinette have sex for the first time. On December 18, 1778, the young queen gives birth to a girl, Marie Thérèse. Although she would prefer to breastfeed the child herself, this is not socially acceptable. The baby princess grows older and Marie Antoinette spends much of her time at the Petit Trianon, her own private sanctuary on the grounds of Versailles. It is also at this time that Marie Antoinette is shown entering into an romantic affair with Count Axel von Fersen (Jamie Dornan), which is only alleged in history.

France continues to subsidize the American Revolution, despite the enormous expense. Food shortages grow more frequent, as do riots in Paris. Marie Antoinette's image with her subjects has completely deteriorated at this point. Her luxurious lifestyle and apparent callous indifference to the common people result in unflattering and obscene political cartoons and earn her the title Madame Déficit. Beginning to mature, she focuses less on her obligations as a socialite and more on her family, and tones down her opulent lifestyle, including a decision to stop purchasing diamonds. A few months after her mother's death in November 1780, Marie Antoinette gives birth to a boy, Louis-Joseph, the new Dauphin. Next she gives birth to a second boy who dies.

The French Revolution comes into full fruition and an angry mob begins a march from Paris to Versailles. As most of the nobility flees the country, the royal family resolves to stay. The rioting sans-culottes reach the palace and the King and Queen are forced to leave the following morning. The film ends with the royal family's transference from Versailles to the Tuileries. The last image of the movie is a shot of the Queen's bedroom, destroyed.


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