Since I’ve been on kind of a Marie Antoinette kick this summer, I decided to revisit a film I’ve heard a good deal about and first watched about a year ago. What inspired me to check it out was that Frock Flicks did a review of it this week and talked about the “creative liberties” taken with its costumes and plot.
Based on a novel of the same name by Chantal Thomas, Farewell My Queen follows Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) on the eve of the French Revolution and the final days of life at the Palace of Versailles. Sidonie works as a reader to Queen Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger), to whom she is fanatically devoted. The Queen enlists Sidonie in a plot to help her hated favorite, the Duchess de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), flee the country.
Farewell My Queen is wonderfully atmospheric and goes into depth about the intricacies of life at Versailles. As a reader or lectrice, Sidonie is pretty much a servant who works behind the scenes and does not live in the luxury we associate with the fabled palace. She is an unimportant bit player in court life and her purpose as character is to provide a point of view for the plot’s events and the trials faced by Marie Antoinette. This is what is known as an Ishmael, a Watson, or a p.o.v. character, a character through whose eyes we see a more compelling central figure.
One of the film’s most controversial additions is the relationship between Marie Antoinette and the Duchess de Polignac, who are shown to have a romantic, if not sexual, bond. Historians have long speculated about the nature of the intense connection between Marie Antoinette and her close friends the Duchess de Polignac and the Princess de Lamballe. Jean-Jacques Rousseau set the fashion for passionate, quasi-romantic friendships between women with his novel Julie ou La Nouvelle Heloise and the queen, princess, and duchess may have been simply following this trend, or so suggests Antonia Fraser. Frock Flicks criticized how in one scene, Marie Antoinette frankly tells Sidonie that she is “attracted” to de Polignac, saying that it was simply too frank for a person living in the 18th century, when homosexual and lesbian intercourse was illegal and modern notions of sexual orientation did not exist. Marie Antoinette often compliments Sidonie’s youthful beauty and is implied to be attracted to her as well. Unfortunately, cinema tends to use female same sex relationships simply for the purpose of male titillation. Farewell My Queen uses girl on girl sexual tension but does not go all the way with it.
I would recommend watching Farewell My Queen, if only to get a different perspective on the well-known Marie Antoinette story.