Film Review: Farewell, My Queen

Film PosterSurely you must be noticing a pattern that is revealing my deep interest in Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. With a trip to Europe on the horizon, I have to say that I am most excited to visit Versailles and experience where history was made.

So it was only natural that when I saw that Farewell, My Queen was playing at the Bloor Varsity theatre (which plays the best films in all of Toronto, according to me), I knew I had to use up some of the Scene points that all this Eurotrip spending has accumulated.

First I will admit that I was shocked that the film was entirely in French and that it was subtitled. Aside from Diane Kruger, who played the famous queen, the majority of the actors were French. A trip to Ms. Kruger’s IMDB page has since informed me that she is indeed fluent in French, something I have to give her credit for!

Now about the plot. It provides a more solemn and somber look at Marie Antoinette’s last days in Versailles before the full outbreak of revolution. The entire film occurs within a matter of three days in July of 1789, including on July 14, when the Bastille was stormed.

The film focuses mostly on the servants who inhabit Versailles, eliminating all of the usual glitz and glamour that we usually see when the famous palace is portrayed. In particular, it follows the queen’s reader, a young girl named Sidonie Laborde (played by Léa Seydoux) who at first seems to be impervious to the Marie Antoinette’s frivolous whims and desires, although the audience is increasingly shown the true depths of her loyalty.

As many of the aristocrats and servants flee Versailles when the news of the storming of the Bastille comes, Sidonie stays with the royal family, feeling sure that she will be safe in their company. It becomes apparent that Marie Antoinette will try to flee when Sidonie is asked to bring some of the queen’s favourite books to her apartments so that they can be packed up. It is times like these when the audience gets a glimpse into the queen’s apparent fickle and self-centred personality.

As with many films about Marie Antoinette, this one offers some speculation into her romantic involvement, this time with Yolande de Polastron, the Duchess of Polignac. One of the queen’s closest friends, there were rumors that the two friends were actually lovers. Although there is no evidence to prove or disprove this theory, Farewell, My Queen takes the stance that they were lovers.

It is because of this part of the plot that Sidonie is asked by the queen to do her a favor that could put her life in jeopardy. I won’t spoil the ending but I will say that my actions would have greatly differed from those of Sidonie’s.

The pivotal point in a movie like this forces you to think a lot about loyalty; who it is for and at what cost? As historians, it’s easy to impose our modern day biases and worldviews when we look at the past, but that makes it difficult to empathize with, and understand, the actions of the people whose lives we are trying to understand.

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