Screening Room: Farewell, My Queen

(KTSF by Sean Au)

A revolution looms over Versailles. The French Revolution seen through the eyes of a lady-in-waiting.

July 1789. Paris is at the brink of overthrowing its monarchy. Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux) entertains Marie-Antoinette (Diane Kruger) as the queen’s reader with books from the royal library. All this while, the rumor mill within the palace walls has been spreading words about peasants storming Bastille, signifying the beginning of the French Revolution.

Versailles staff starts to make plans to leave the palace should the throne fall, but Sidonie staunchly remains by the side of the queen. Yet, the person Marie-Antoinette wants to save is Gabrielle de Polastron, the Duchess of Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), with whom she has an intimate relationship. The queen wanted Gabrielle to leave the palace for the French-German border. Knowing that the public has a distinct dislike of the duchess, schemes to have Sidonie disguise as Gabrielle as her decoy. Sidonie’s loyalty has been repaid with betrayal.

There has been countless movies about the polarizing Marie-Antoinette. This latest French version shows the impact of the French Revolution through the servants of the palace, providing a look of the upstairs/downstairs dynamic at this crucial point in history. Director Benoit Jacquot is most intrigued by the state of panic in the palace caused by the revolution. “What happens when an unexpected historic event produces this panic,” says Jacquot. “It was, after all, a catastrophe that befell every person within the castle walls of Versailles.”

Faced with panic, most of the actions of people are motivated by selfishness. While Sidonie aims to please her queen by obeying her every requests, she is also risking her life to protect that of someone she hardly knows. In contrast, her naivete, loyalty and innocence stand out among those around her.

Jacquot gives the three lead actresses space to explore their characters and deliver nuanced performances that provoke emotional responses within us, all the while providing the walls of Versailles as a silent character that shields those within but have become a symbol of decadent fragility at this important period in history. Details within the palace further add to the accomplishment of the film which impressively provide an original viewing of an otherwise over-treated subject.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Video courtesy of Cohen Media.

(Copyright 2012 KTSF. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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