Movies: Happy Bastille Day! Eat Cake, Watch Movies.

Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds) plays the troubled big-spending queen, Léa Seydoux (Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol), the film's actual lead, is her bosomy devoted servant Madame Laborde, and Virginia Ledoyen (8 Women) is the Queen's Object of Affection, the Duchess de Polignac. The French people were so unhappy with this rumored affair that the ostensibly powerless Duchess was fairly high on the list of the 286 heads demanded for the guillotine! Jacquot clues you in early that he means to tell the famous story differently. For one, it's told "backstage" through the stressful lives of the servants. Consider it the French Revolution: Downton Abbey Edition… without Maggie Smith or the jokes.


It begins on July 14th, 1789 on the fatefully violent day that will become "Bastille Day" though the Royal Court and their massive entourage of servants won't understand what's happening until the news trickles over to them in the country. This Revoluton will not be televised; Jacquot wisely never jumps over to Paris for history lessons but keeps the focus tight on Lamborde's journey as she's drawn closer and closer into the Duchess & Queen's tragic orbit. The movie is immediately unglamourous and alarmingly modern (without the gorgeously stylized anachronisms of Coppola's version). In the very first moments Laborde wakes with an itchy arm from mosquito bites, is taunted by a fellow servant with a dead rat, and scolded by her superior for arriving to see the Queen with a dirty dress. In brief, this is not your typically fussy costume drama. The 100 minute running time, the shortest of any Marie Antoinette feature that I've personally seen, is another example of the film's bracing immediacy. 

Farewell my Queen takes place over a few short days and each morning Lamborde is awakened more violently as the threats from Paris escalate. Late in the film, after an innocuous fade to black she jolts suddenly awake gasping and grasping her neck as if she's just lost her own head to the blade. She has possibly lost her head, albeit not literally. And she may have also lost her heart, too. It's a credit to Seydoux that she manages to keep you guessing and interested in what the mysteriously solitary Lamborde is feeling even though her character is a self described "no one". Is her devotion to the Queen your garden variety Stockholm Syndrome or is there something deeper at work? The psychologically knotty climax is both unthinkably heartless and suffused with an elegant gallows romanticism as the three central women become inextricably fused together even as they're scattering away from their home.


There are numerous reasons why the Marie Antoinette story has fascinated artists and storytellers for centuries now. From the Court's commitment to theatrical flamboyance with a blind eye to the consequent suffering of the masses (modern pop culture echos were seen as recently as The Hunger Games this spring), to the complexity of the Queen's lonely gilded cage tragedy played against the backdrop of epic messy violent history. One could argue that the now mythic story is super relevant all over again in this era of rampant socioeconomic injustice and the angry gap between the 1 and 99%. 


Lesmiz-anneP.S. if you have no time for the movies this weekend, do something to celebrate the French. The least you could do is watch the haunting Les Miserables trailer again! Anne Hathaway's choked up musicality is thrilling and a reminder that theatrically galvanizing French suffering didn't end with Marie Antoinette's head in a basket. If Hathaway is crying this hard in early 2013 it'll be from Oscar night joy.

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.


  1. oakpope says

    Thank you for the happy Bastille Day :)
    Though officially we celebrate the 14th of July 1790, ‘Fête de la fédération’ and not the taken of the Bastille’s 1789.

  2. Randy says

    Please do not repeat that tripe about how the french court ignored the plight of the masses. Most of the stories that we learn about were untrue and were made up during after their execution in order to justify their deaths.

    And although it’s quite true that most of the “premier etate” didn’t much care (and the second estate, that of the clergy, most certainly didn’t), Louis XVI himself cared very deeply, as he considered himself the father of all the french.

    When people were starving, her personally bought many tons of wheat to feed people. He attempted an austerity budget and cut expenses at Versailles numerous times, which only made him unpopular with the aristocrats. He liberalized the press, which in turn used the liberty to attack him further. He refused to allow his guards to kill any rioters, even when their own lives were at risk (to which Napolean grumpled that a few shots would have gotten rid of the agitators).

    In fact, Louis actually convened the Estates General for the first time in decades in order to raise taxes with the consent of the governed, even though as an absolute monarach, he could have done so with out anyone approval.

    Indeed, the first french revolution was the one where he agreed to a constitutional monarchy, and be bound by certain limits as to what he could do.

    What it enough? No. Did he make mistakes? Sure. But to portray him and Marie Antoinette as heartless rulers completely out of touch and concerned only with their own frivolities is just not part of the historical record.

  3. Randy says

    Yes, he was very indicisive, and that’s not a good thing when everyone expects you to know how to rule.

    Futhermore, Marie Antoinette was never educated properly and thrown into an impossible situation. The French-Austrian marriage was just not going to work, no matter what they did.

    Incidently, both king and queen gave enormous sums to charity and often did so anonymously.

    Again, not defending their mistakes, but they were not the monsters that we’ve been led to believe.

  4. Pierce_mn says

    My friend Stacy called the new Marie Antoinette a “2 hour shoe commercial,” and, frankly, she’s right. What a bore! At least I got it from the library and didn’t have to pay for it!

  5. UFFDA says

    RANDY – thanks for all your information (but please straighten out your English in the first post! too many mistakes).

    Anyone who loves America and knows something about it’s founding has to honor the French without whom we could not have won the Revolutionary War.

    Yes, vive la France.

    And where is our own “Frenchman”, OS2GUY?

  6. Randy says

    Sorry — thinking in french and english can screw up my typing skills.

    Anyway, Marie Antoinette had great style and class — enough reason for any gay man to worship her!

    And one more little known fact: Her hair dresser “kept house” with another man and was her most devoted servant, staying with her until the very end, at great personal risk to himself. He knew how important it was to have her hair dressed at all times!

  7. andrew says

    My friends who have traveled to Europe have told me that the French people are the least friendly and rudest in all of Europe. Do any of you have similar experiences?

  8. andrew says

    @UFFDA: the French king aided the American revolutionaries because he wanted to weaken his enemy, Britain, not because he favored democracy and freedom. His own unjust society collapsed in a Reign of Terror a short time later. We would have gained ou independence without French aid, but it would have taken a little linger.

  9. andrew says

    @Willyag: I was asking a reasonable question. Thats what we do in America. Your “Shut up Andrew” comment may be the answer about French rudeness.

  10. Nico says

    @Andrew: I do not think that it is a reasonable question to ask for a blanket statement on a whole nation based on a few travelers’ personal accounts.

    I must confess I never got why Marie Antoinette’s story is supposed to be so fascinating, so I do not care much for movies on it. But I wholeheartedly second all the recommendations is this post. Excellent movies all!

    Oh! and Happy Bastille Day!

  11. oakpope says

    @Andrew : it’s a little more complicated than that. Yes, to antagonized UK was great, but there was massive goodwill in France towards the American fight for independence. Would you have won without France ? No one can tell, but little is known that the major contribution from France was not La Fayette, of the De Grasse navy, but the money. France loan huge amount of money to the Americans so they could arm and dress themselves. The amount of money given is a major reason why France got bankrupt in 1780s. It’s also not well known that when revolutionary France was attacked by all Europe Kingdoms, they ask the Americans for some money back from the loans, but the American government refused, because they said the money came from the King, and therefore USA was not obligated to reimburse the loans. The money was never given back. Not to great consequence for the French love of America, as is proven by the popular free contribution of French people to finance the Statue of Liberty, gift from the French people to the American one (even children was contributing with their meagre nickel equivalents). No hard feelings, you paid back in the end of WWI and WWII :)

  12. oakpope says

    As for the rude commentary : French are 65 millions. Nobody can judge so many people by meeting some people, all the more in Paris when there is so many different cultures and habits and tourists, who are not always very polite themselves :)
    I don’t think there is more rude people in Paris than in New York, or in London :)

  13. oakpope says

    As for the rude commentary : French are 65 millions. Nobody can judge so many people by meeting some people, all the more in Paris when there is so many different cultures and habits and tourists, who are not always very polite themselves :)
    I don’t think there is more rude people in Paris than in New York, or in London :)

  14. RobWest says

    I know this shouldn’t be posted here, but where is your story on the death of Celeste Holm? Kind of shocked and disappointed.

    Academy Award Winner Celeste Holm Dies At 95.

  15. Lance says

    Andrew: That is what countries do; they ultimately look out for their own interests. The United States does this on a daily basis yet I would be hard-pressed to find a citizen who is this critical of their own foreign policy in regards to military and monetary “aid”.

  16. russ says

    Thank you Robwest for letting us know. I haven’t seen any news on Ms Holmes passing. I know that she’s been very very ill for a long time. God Bless her.

  17. Joseph says

    Andrew, having traveled throughout Europe and the United States, I have to say the rudest people are New Yorkers, with the citizens of Prague a close second. I’ve never had a problem in France — indeed, some of the friendliest, most helpful people I’ve met in my travels have been the French.

  18. ratbastard says

    The French are no better, no worse than anyone else. I’ve never had any serious problems in France, most people are cool.

    France is the world’s number one tourist destination and the average French person, especially in Paris, naturally, get a little irritated with the crowds. I think when people say the French are aholes they’re referring to Paris. Paris is a very big city, and tourists no matter where they’re from need to understand that. Act like a guest and not a self-entitled tourist and most people will respect you. And try and learn a few words of French.

    British anti-French attitude has also affected many Americans understanding of France and the French. Average Americans should know the British make fun of everybody, it’s a part of British culture. Most French people I know and have encountered are perfectly pleasant people. And you’re more likely to encounter rude genuine anti-American attitudes in the UK than in France.

  19. ratbastard says


    As a native New Yorker I concur 100%. New Yorkers [and by New Yorkers I include L.I., Westchester, Northern NJ] are without a doubt some of the most obnoxious people on the planet. But I’ve encountered a lot of smug, arrogant attitudes in Dallas [for example] too. And where I live, Boston, is no cake-walk. But when people visit places like N.Y., Dallas, Boston, etc. they’re most likely staying in touristy/business parts that are mostly non-natives and are just as likely to meet and interact with a non-local as they are a local, so be careful judging a place by just a few visits.

  20. daniel malisky says

    the princess de lambale was another rumored lover and tried to flee with the queen. De lambale was brutally murdered by the mob I mean brutal. You cant do better than the norma shearer movie “marie antonette” just great story telling and elaborate production but done for some unknown reason in black and white

Leave A Reply