Bag Girl Reviews: Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Without a Country by Kathyrn Lasky

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Growing up, Mary, Queen of Scots: Queen Without a Country was an entry in the Royal Diaries series that I always wanted to read but never got a chance to. When I reread Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles last fall, I decided to purchase Queen Without a Country off of Amazon. 

Eleven-year-old Mary Stuart believes that she is destined to rule three countries. By birth, she is Queen of Scotland and she is arranged to marry the heir to the French throne, the frail but good natured Francis. Those around her say that she has a better claim to the English throne than its current occupant. But being a beautiful young royal growing up in the renaissance French court is not the fairy tale one might imagine. Mary and her loyal clique of ladies in waiting, all named Mary (this gets a little confusing at times, I can understand why Reign changed this but did they have to give them such preposterous names as Lola, Greer, Kenna, and Aylee) have to deal with spies and political intrigue, a pedophilic music teacher, and Mary’s treacherous and prickly mother-in-law to be, Catherine de Medici.

I always get a kick out of when I find surprisingly adult elements in books intended for children, such as Signor Marcellini, the music master who comes onto Mary Fleming, the real life counterpart to Reign’s Lola. One needs to keep in mind that Mary and her ladies are supposed to around eleven or twelve and girls in the sixteenth century were considered sexually mature around that age so that by the standards of the time, Signor Marcellini would not be considered a pedophile.  

Like I said with Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles, this book is meant for elementary and middle school aged readers and comes across as somewhat juvenile to me at this point in my life, but I probably would have enjoyed when I was younger. The setting of the highly refined sixteenth-century French court is fascinating and like with Reign, it is meant to be escapism. Many young girls enjoyed fantasizing about being a beautiful princess, wearing gorgeous clothes, and having exciting things happen to you, I know I did. And if there is a historical setting, all the better.  

Bag Girl Reviews: Reign Season 4

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Perhaps the most egregious television shows I can think of is the C.W series Reign, based on the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. The story lines are cliched and melodramatic and give only the slightest nod to the history it is supposed to be based on, the acting is hoaky and terrible, the costumes range from looking like tacky prom dresses to looking like school play costumes. It’s characters behave like your typical C.W style spoiled brats and it’s thin veneer of political drama comes second to bed hopping and petulant rivalries. But the strangest thing is that I got caught up in the show and have a strange soft spot for it.  It is my guiltiest of guilty pleasures. As an aspiring writer and a  lover of history who appreciates historical accuracy and artistic integrity, enjoying this pandering trash makes me feel like a hypocrite. If shows like Downton Abbey, Poldark, and Outlander are like a fine chocolate truffle, Reign is the television equivalent of eating a dozen pixie stixs. You know it is crap and bad for you and that there are better things out there, but sometimes you just need the hollow rush.

In this final season, Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) struggles to find her footing as the Catholic ruler of Protestant Scotland and makes a politically advantageous to Lord Darnley (Will Kemp) who tries to undermine her authority as queen. Her rivalry with Elizabeth I of England (Rachel Skarsten) escalates to an outright grudge match. Meanwhile back in France, Catherine de Medici (Megan Follows) tries to protect her increasingly unstable son Charles IX (Spencer MacPherson).

Poor Adelaide Kane is completely out of her depth as Mary, Queen of Scots. She is trying to be a dignified and queenly figure but comes across more as an overindulged little girl. Rachel Skarsten reads as more of a Regina George style alpha bitch in the role of Elizabeth I than the brilliant and pragmatic politician Elizabeth really was. Both are presented as strong, independent women in a man’s world but, in reality, are little more than the bitchy combatants in a girl, soap opera catfight.

The best performance is given by Megan Follows as Catherine de Medici who is brilliant and steals the show.

There are a lot of bad things you can say about Reign. It is silly fluff and emblematic of the shallowness of the entertainment industry, mostly in how it thinks it needs to sacrifice authenticity in order to pander to the lowest common denominator. My opinion is that if you are going to make a film or television series involving some sort of history, the people who are most likely going to watch it are those who are interested in history, and you should not alienate that demographic. There is a terrible misconception that history is boring and not relevant to people today and this is not a mid set we should encourage or pander to. I find that history is fascinating enough without being turned into a costume ball version of Pretty Little Liars.

Bag Girl Reviews: Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution by Caroline Weber

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If  Marie Antoinette’s legacy is as anything, it is as a fashion icon and a symbol of luxury and decadence. Her name and image has been used to conjure up visions of girly excess: cake, shoes, and elaborate and towering hairstyles. In her own time, France’s doomed last queen used her style choices to forge her own identity, which Caroline Weber explores in her book Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore To The Revolution.

As a member of the rigidly formal and etiquette controlled court of Versailles, Marie Antoinette’s clothing choices were limited. She was expected to lead a shy and retiring life and let a de Pompadour or du Barry hog the limelight, but this was not diva queen bee Antoinette’s style. With the help of the pioneering fashion designer Rose Bertin and her trusty hairdresser, Monsieur Léonard, Marie Antoinette created her own iconic look which provoked outrage as well as legions of imitators. Weber describes each of the fashion trends that Marie Antoinette helped launch, from the fabulously gaudy pouf to the scandalously revealing chemise à la reine, and how her reign as “queen of fashion” coincided with the birth of what we would know as France’s couture industry.

For someone of Marie Antoinette’s status, what you wore was political as well as personal. To wear an elaborate court costume complete with tower pouf, was to be seen as frivolous and uncaring about the plight of the poor; the powder which covered the wigs of the aristocracy was said to be made from flour stolen from hungry peasants. On the other hand, wearing a chemise à la reine and frolicking like a Rousseau inspired Shepherdess was seen as behaving in way which was unseemly for a queen and anti-french; the muslin from which a chemise à la reine was made being a foreign import. Colors, trimmings, and accessories were loaded with meanings which you ignored at your peril. Marie Antoinette, and her instantly recognizable wardrobe, were a fixture of both the burgeoning fashion press and seditious political pamphlets and cartoons. Her poufs and chemises became to epitomize all that was wrong with her and the world she represented.

Caroline Weber has an obvious enjoyment of both history and fashion which comes across in the book, which is well written and engaging, as side from a couple of language ticks which bugged me for some reason. She over uses the words “sartorial” and “ci-devant”; if you were to take a drink every time those phrases appear, you would quickly pass out.

Bag Girl Reviews: Farewell My Queen

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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.

 

 

Bag Girl Reviews: Clarissa: Book 1 by Samuel Richardson or In Defense of the Good Girl

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At around 1,431 pages, Clarissa or The History of a Young Lady beats out Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (826 pages), Bleak House by Charles Dickens (813 pages) and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (955 pages) for the title of longest book I have ever read. Such a tome seems like an overwhelming task to get through but fortunately they are often divided up into a number of sections, each a mini book in themselves. How I got through War and Peace was that I would read a section and then take a break for a few week and repeat until the book was finished. I am going to do the same for Clarissa.

After her grandfather dies and leaves her a large fortune, Clarissa Harlowe, a young woman of great beauty, intelligence, and virtue, is uninterested in marrying; being independently wealthy, she lacks the economic incentive to do so. She has already refused several suitors and her nouveau riche family is frustrated with her. They insist that she marry the rich but repulsive Mr. Solmes, which is partially a revenge plot by Clarissa’s greedy and envious brother and sister. Her refusal to marry the man picked out for her by her family causes them to become increasingly controlling and hostile. Clarissa’s beauty and virtue attract the notice of  Robert Lovelace, a notorious rake, who sets out to win her with offers of protection should she wish to flee her impossible situation. 

Passive and virtuous Clarissa is a heroine who would be hard for modern audiences to get behind. We like our period heroines to be rebels who stick it to the patriarchy but this does not do justice to the reality of what life was like for women in centuries past. Clarissa’s plight is an extreme example of what many women in the 18th century went through. They were considered the property of either their father or their husband and were constantly reminded that they had to be obedient. By refusing to marry Solmes, Clarissa is posing a threat to the social structure. Her parents do not relent because doing so would compromise their authority; they are pretty much a parody of the “because I said so” style of parenting. Trying to buck the system backfires on Clarissa as doing so causes her to be stripped of whatever freedom she has: walking in the garden, sending letters, and even leaving her room. The point is that Clarissa is a goody-goody who is used to playing by the rules but is conflicted when duty means sacrificing her own happiness. A genteelly brought up girl like Clarissa would be ill equipped to handle life on her own and she would be dependent on a man, which is where Lovelace comes in, who we get the feeling cannot be trusted.  

Richardson explores the helplessness of women in his society. From the time she was a child, Clarissa would have little say in own life. She would be subject to the authority of her parents and later her husband, an authority which could easily turn tyrannical and abusive. Clarissa starts off as a beloved and indulged daughter of privilege but the absolute rule of parents slowly turns her into a prisoner in their own home when she opposes them. A contemporary reader may ask why she does not stick up for herself? The answer is: she does. Clarissa finds a number of ways to snark at and rebel against her oppressors but this only serves to make life worse for her. 

The Jo Marches and Arya Starks of the world will always chaff against what society expects of them and be admired when they rebel against these expectations. But for the majority of women throughout history, this would be merely wish fulfilment fantasy. The Clarissa Harlowes of the world try their best to find their way within the system and later end being screwed over, then criticized for being weak.

A Bag Girl Triple Feature: The Handmaid’s Tale (1990), and Moana

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Part of my preparation for Jasmine’s visit was picking out movies for us to watch while she was down here. The three I chose were the 1990 film adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, since we both watched the recent Hulu series, and Moana, which we saw together in theaters on my last birthday. 

I learned that there was also a film adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale when I was researching the Hulu series. It follows pretty much the same story line, except it begins with the heroine’s backstory, which is told through flashbacks in the Hulu series. A young woman named Kate (Natasha Richardson) is captured trying to flee the repressive Republic of Gilead with her family and is forced to become a handmaid and bear a child for the Commander (Robert Duvall) and his wife Serena Joy (Faye Dunaway). She is stripped of her bodily autonomy and given the name Offred. After falling in love with the Commander’s chauffeur, Nick (Aidan Quinn), Kate, now Offred, tries to find away to escape.

The first difference of note between the Hulu series is that the heroine’s name is Kate, whereas in the series, she is called June. There is also an implication that Kate’s husband died while they were trying to flee from Gilead, while in the series, he is shown to have escaped. Much is cut out of the source material to give the film an under two hour runtime which you could fit into a two season series with ten episodes a season. The second season has not aired yet on Hulu, so I got a taste of what is to come later on. The Commander and Serena Joy are shown to be older in the 1990 version than they are in 2017 version, as I have heard they are in the source material. Faye Dunaway is an inspired to choice to play Serena Joy.

If you enjoyed the Hulu series and or the original novel by Margaret Atwell, I would recommend checking this movie out. 

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Moana was a film that I was excited to see, mostly because the music was written by Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of Hamilton. I decided to see it on my birthday, which usually is soon after Thanksgiving, Moana’s release date, at Salem Cinema with Jasmine.

Moana of Motunui (Auli’i Cravalho), a young Polynesian islander, is destined to succeed her father as Motunui’s chief but finds herself drawn to outside ocean surrounding her tiny, isolated island. When famine strikes Motunui, Moana discovers the missing heart of the goddess Te Fiti, the cause of the famine, and sets out to return it, teaming up with the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to save her island.

The first thing that struck me about this movie is that the animation is drop dead gorgeous, especially on the ocean, which is an anthropomorphized character in itself. The music is also brilliant; Lin Manuel Miranda definitely brings his A-game. Christopher Jackson, who originated the role of George Washington in Hamilton, is the singing voice of Moana’s father, Chief Tui. I thought that Phillipa Soo, who was the original Eliza, was the voice of Moana’s mother, but it turned out to be Nicole Scherzinger, former front woman of the Pussycat Dolls. Dwayne Johnson brings all of his charm and charisma to the role of Maui and works well with Auli’i Cravalho, a newcomer who I hope to see more of.

The was a bit of an uproar on the internet when the song City of Stars from the film La La Land beat Moana’s How Far I’ll Go for best song at the 2017 Oscars. I saw La La Land and enjoyed it but thought it was somewhat overrated and perhaps did not deserve to sweep the Oscars the way it did. Its music was good but nothing phenomenal. In my opinion, Moana, and its soundtrack by Lin Manuel Miranda was among the best of 2016.

A Bag Girl Double Feature: The Beguiled (2017) and Baby Driver

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The Beguiled is a remake of a 1971 film of the same name starring Clint Eastwood, in turn based on A Painted Devil, a 1966 novel by Thomas P. Cullinan. My dad rented the original film when he read that a remake was in the works. I enjoyed the movie and its 2017 update was on my list of must watch movies of the summer  especially because it had a great cast and I was sold on the idea of blond haired southern belles in pretty, pastel dresses tormenting a helpless man. I was originally hoping to do a double feature of The Beguiled with My Cousin Rachel, as they are both atmospheric period pieces dealing with suspicion and sexual tension.

Corporal John McBurney ( Colin Farrell), a wounded union deserter, finds himself taken in by an isolated girl’s school in Virginia. The smooth talking McBurney proceeds to charm all of the school’s inmates, who are starved for male company, specifically Martha (Nicole Kidman), the school’s tough and icy headmistress, Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), a lonely and lovelorn teacher, and Alicia (Elle Fanning), a sexually curious student. Tensions and suspicions rise as McBurney begins to wear out his welcome. 

Colin Farrell as McBurney is both sleazy and sympathetic; by no means an honorable man but did not intend to cause as much trouble as he did. Nicole Kidman was great as Martha, the strong woman who had been strong for too long.  I was concerned about the casting of Kirsten Dunst as Edwina, believing she was too old (in the original film, Edwina is said to be in her early twenties) but she did well in the part. Elle Fanning is an actress I enjoy but I could not get behind her character Alicia, who is a total little shit. I adored the production design for this movie. All of the women are dressed in pale pastels and the sets are illuminated using mostly natural light or candles  to give the film an eerie, ethereal, gothic feel, which is at the same time sweet and feminine. The Beguiled was written, directed, and produced by Sofia Coppola and I think some of Marie Antoinette’s sugary prettiness made it into this movie.  I would recommend The Beguiled  solely on its production design alone.

The 1971 film version deals in both male fantasy (being the rooster in a hen house) and male nightmare (when said hens turn against you). But Sofia Coppola’s take on the story is firmly on the side of the women; you are rooting for them as they close ranks to protect themselves against a male interloper. This feminist subversion sits well in a summer film reason defined by Wonder Woman.

I started hearing a lot of positive hype about Baby Driver, which is considered one of the best films of the summer. After hearing the details about the movie, I became interested and anxious to see it, since I enjoy gangster flicks. 

Partially deaf after a car accident which killed his parents, Baby (Ansel Elgort) drowns out the world around him with a pair of earbuds and a quiet, stoical demeanor. To pay off a debt, Baby works as a getaway driver for a gang of criminals headed by Doc (Kevin Spacey) but wishes to leave that life for good and run off with a pretty and free spirited waitress, Debora (Lily James). But this proves to be the hardest getaway of Baby’s career. 

Music plays a large role in the movie, as Baby uses his playlists are used to drown out the ringing in his ears due to his partial deafness and as a sort of soundtrack to his life; he is often seen dancing and singing along to whatever song he is listening to and the cuts and choreography of the film are set to the beat of the music. It has often bean said that the film works as a sort of quasi jukebox musical. An interesting detail in the sound design is that a ringing noise is heard whenever music is not playing.

Ansel Elgort as Baby is effortlessly cool and I would not be surprised if young men over the coming decades start copying the character’s style of dress and mannerisms. Kevin Spacey is both funny and intimidating as Doc and armed with a number of hilarious quips. Doc’s gang is filled with a number of colorful characters: Buddy (Jon Hamm), a banker turned bank robber, Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), the Bonnie to his Clyde, and Bats (Jamie Foxx), the gang’s loose canon, who all give stand out performances. Lily James seems to be the go for girl whenever they need someone to be delightfully ditzy, and Debora’s romance with baby is sweet and believable. Another character of note is Joe, Baby’s foster father, who is deaf and in a wheelchair, with whom Baby communicates through sign language. Joe is played by deaf actor CJ Jones.  I appreciate the inclusion of deaf and other differently abled actors and of sign language, which I would like to learn some day.

I am not big on action movies but I enjoyed Baby Driver, and its action sequences are heart pounding. Add in interesting characters, a sweet romance, and a killer soundtrack, and Baby Driver is a great movie.

Bag Girl Fourth of July Special: A Review of Common Sense by Thomas Paine

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If anyone asks me what I’ve been doing to get in the spirit of the Fourth of July, I will respond, in the words of Angelica Schuyler, “I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine…” I read excerpts from Common Sense in my American Literature class last semester and I bought a copy of the full work in the gift shop of the Concord Bridge battlefield site and thought it would be a good idea to read it in honor of Independence Day.

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine paints the Americas as a place of refuge from the tyranny of Europe and the American character as independent and freedom loving:

“This new world hath been the asylum of for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which from the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still.”  

One of Paine’s major points is that England needs the Americas more than the Americas need England; that the American colonies would be better off without England and are economically self-sufficient enough to survive the break, “Our corn will fetch its price in any market in Europe, and our imported goods must be paid for buy them where we will.”  Paine also suggests that it makes economic sense to break from England, because if they are not involved in England’s conflicts with other European countries, then they will have more foreign markets in which to trade, “As Europe is our market for trade, we ought to form no partial connection with any part of it…whenever a war breaks out between England and any other foreign power, the trade of American foes into ruin because of the connection with Britain.”  If England goes to war with France, then the French will not trade with America, because it is a British colony; The British Crown has so mistreated it’s North American Colonies, Paine argues, that it would be immoral and cowardly for a North American to wish to continue being a British subject, “But if you have, and can still shake hands with the murderers, then you are unworthy of the name of husband, father, friend, or lover, and whatever your rank or title in life, you have the heart of a coward, and the spirit of a sycophant.” 

In Paine’s brief pamphlet, we see the seeds of America’s sense of itself in relation to the rest of the world; it’s fierce independence, sense of exceptionalism, and distrust of large and intrusive governments. Paine argues that governments are at best a necessary evil and only necessary and useful inasfar as they can keep order. It is in human nature to form communities for companionship and survival, but centralized government, in the form of a king, is unnatural and destructive. Common Sense ends with Paine’s position on the church vs. state argument. He chastises members of the Quaker community, who are supposed to be passive and apolitical, for meddling in politics. America was partially colonized by those seeking asylum from the religious persecution of Europe and founding fathers were in favor of a separation between church and state to prevent religious persecution, something which is often forgotten. Economics is also a large consideration in American independence. The spit from Britain makes economic sense according to Paine. Jamestown, the first American colony, was founded as part of a money making venture and now 170 years later, the Americas have become self sufficient enough to no longer need the so called mother country. Once separated from England, the thirteen colonies will no longer have to pay high taxes and tariffs and have their commerce threatened by England’s constant wars. By appealing to the interests of religion and money, Paine is evoking two of the greatest forces which have shaped American politics.

Common Sense is a seminal piece of American history and in understanding American politics. Part of the reason why I read it is because I am taking a class on the American Revolution next semester in school. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in American history, specifically the revolutionary era.

 

 

Bag Girl Reviews: Marie Antoinette (1938)

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When we first got On Demand, I remember getting into a lot of trouble for running up large cable bills due to the amount of movies I rented. I would rent a movie or to whenever I was not feeling well, and this was how I watched a number of period dramas, such as Dangerous Liaisons and The Affair of the Necklace, for the first time. One of these movies was the 1938 film Marie Antoinette, which I decided to check out again since I have read a couple of Marie Antoinette related books recently. 

Young Austrian archduchess Marie Antoinette (Norma Shearer) is sent to France to marry its dauphin Louis (Robert Morley) in an attempt to join their two countries but her youth and inexperience and status as a foreigner make her ill equipped to handle life at the French court and the machinations of her rivals Madame du Barry (Gladys George) and the Duke d’Orléans (Joseph Schildkraut). Predictably, Marie Antoinette compensates for her unsatisfactory marriage through outrageous parties and out of control spending and falls in love with the dashing swede, Count Axel von Fersen (Tyrone Power). Unaware of the world outside the opulent walls of Versailles, Louis and Marie become the object of their impoverished people’s hatred. 

This film version of Marie Antoinette’s life is best known for its elaborate costumes which are works of art in themselves. Although they are not a hundred percent historically accurate (a lot of dramatic license is taken), they evoke the frivolous excess of the rococo period. As is often the case with big budget epics of the golden age of Hollywood, this film relies heavily on spectacle. 

Norma Shearer in the title role rings a bit false as the giddy carefree young  Marie Antoinette but is much better as the dignified, tragic, older Marie Antoinette. Robert Morley as Louis XVI is a bit too buffoonish but is still sympathetic and endearing. Despite him being a schlubby introvert and her being a high spirited  extrovert, the marriage of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI was unusually close and affectionate. I almost prefer their relationship to Marie’s relationship with Axel von Fersen. Tyrone Power is good as the typical romantic lead but is little more than eye candy. 

The style of acting in this film, and many others of this period, may come across as hammy and the plot slow and melodramatic to modern viewers used to a more fast pace and realistic type of movie but if you enjoy old costume dramas, this is definitely one you should watch, if only for the fabulous confections that Marie Antoinette wears.

Bag Girl Review: Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser

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A book that I’ve been meaning to read for years is Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser, the biography which was the inspiration for the Sofia Coppola film I adore. I bought the kindle edition of the book years ago but never finished it.

Marie Antoinette: The Journey tracks the development of  its subject from a both indulged and neglected archduchess in Austria to a lonely and unfulfilled dauphine in France, to a despised queen, and then a heartbroken widow awaiting execution. The story of the last queen of France is one of a young woman, a flighty and badly educated fourteen year old who, by accident of fate, was sent to do a job she was not suited for and did not want, that of a quasi ambassador who would support Austrian interest in France. The same could be said of her husband. The awkward and introverted but good natured Louis XVI was unsuited to the cutthroat world of French court politics and too indecisive to be able to weather the coming socio-political storm. Antonia Fraser paints the ill fated royal couple as tragic and sympathetic. Despite being vilified in her own lifetime as a greedy, extravagant, and manipulative intriger and adulteress, Marie Antoinette would have been better suited to a simple and cosy domestic life.

As a figure of glamour, luxury, and indulgence, as well as tragedy, Marie Antoinette continues to captivate us today. I think the reason I feel such a connection with her is because we share a number of personality flaws with her: extravagance, capriciousness, ennui, and a tendency to compensate for our frustration and unhappiness with excessive self indulgence. If I was in Marie Antoinette’s position, in an unhappy marriage and constantly under the scrutiny of a hostile court, and had her unlimited access to the best of French fashion and culture, I would probably go a bit overboard as well. 

I found reading this book highly enjoyable. It is very well written and paints a vivid picture of Marie Antoinette and her life at the dazzling but vicious court of Versailles and how she incurred the wrath of the increasingly resentful French population, who would later rise up and destroy her and her family, try as did to prevent this disaster. Fraser’s prose held me from the beginning and the read did not feel like a chore to get through, as it sometimes does with non fiction.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Marie Antoinette and the time period she lived through, and in French history in general, and anyone who is a fan of the Sofia Coppola film.