Early in her biography of Marie-Antoinette, Lady Antonia Fraser notes her subject’s “timidity and laziness” in matters of education, the lateness with which she learned to read (13), and her short attention span. At this point I imagine Sophia Coppola hurled her copy into the fire, put on her favourite Adam and the Ants song, and yelled “BINGO!” For Antonia had just given her a wonderful hook—attention deficit disorder, illiterate … 1980s girl! Desperately seeking Marie-Antoinette …
There is little evidence from her film that Coppola read much more of Lady Antonia’s book, for by now her stage was set, her Bow-wow-wow records were chosen. By design, Coppola’s Marie Antoinette is as vacant and shallow as the benighted decade that provided most of the soundtrack. If you are looking for the psychological underpinnings to Marie Antoinette’s Imelda-like shopaholicism or an understanding of her relationship with her husband (which, after two hours of utter contempt, the movie mysteriously transforms into unswerving loyalty, even to death) you will not find the answers here.
The only significant subject the film dwells on, at inordinate length, is the length of time it took for her to conceive an heir to the throne. Contemporary accounts indicate that the Dauphin was a reluctant lover. This throws up a range of interesting avenues for the story-teller: was Louis a latent homosexual, intimidated by his beautiful foreign wife, oppressed by the power being thrust upon him? In the movie these were all eschewed in favor of a nudge-in-the-ribs approach that portrays the future King of France as a prototype computer geek (locks = computers) lying corpselike beside his hot blooded Austrian Madonna. Over and over again. And then an encore.
This tedious little skit is most of what passes for plot in this tiresome and disappointing glossy magazine of a film. Marie-Antoinette’s life and brutal death are uniquely fascinating. Yet here it is flattened, beautifully colored, and set against a clamorous Babel of English accents until it has as much meaning as a Bananarama poster.