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Movies | Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette is interesting but incomplete

Issue: "Iraq and terrorism," Nov. 11, 2006

Remember your European History in high school? You'll need it to make much sense of Sophia Coppola's biopic of Marie Antoinette.

The film opens with Marie Antoinette, played admirably by Kirsten Dunst, traveling to France to meet her future husband, the dauphin (or heir to the throne) of that country. And most of the film's conflict centers on Antoinette's inability to coax her husband into consummating their marriage and her discomfort with the protocols of her office.

The audience will share in that discomfort.

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Coppola accurately depicts Antoinette as waking each morning to a crowd surrounding her bed. Not allowed to dress herself, Marie Antoinette must wait on those waiting on her-the privilege going to the lady in waiting of the highest rank. At one point, Antoinette waits disrobed (but covered-the film is rated PG-13 for sexuality) as the ladies decide who will get to put on her clothes. "This is ridiculous," Antoinette says. "This is Versailles," her caretaker replies. They are both right.

Coppola's film gives an incomplete if interesting portrayal of Marie Antoinette from Austrian girl to dauphine to queen. The half-rendering of Marie Antoinette's life sheds light on what it must have been like to endure an arranged marriage to the heir to the French throne and gives an imagined picture of the inner workings of Versailles. But Coppola's film touches precious little on the world outside of the French palace.

Perhaps that was Coppola's point. Politics, schemes, rumors, and even wars swirled around the real Marie Antoinette. Revolutionary politicians charged the frivolous queen was out of touch-worrying about vanities while the French people starved. Coppola, however, gives little clue as to why an angry mob has come to confront the royals or what their ultimate fate is.

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