Friday, November 12, 2010

Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette: The Journey is a Fascinating Book (but the movie version sucked)

(Film Cover of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette)

Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette: The Journey is a fascinating book, but its film version, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, didn’t do the book, or the life of Marie Antoinette, justice.
Sofia Coppola, the Director, should stick to smaller themes and smaller films like Lost in Translation.  Cinematically, she is indeed her father’s daughter, but in terms of the “Epic Film,” Sofia Coppola is nowhere near Apocalypse Now.
Marie Antoinette, the film, is visually stunning, but too cute and unbalanced.  In short, the film had potential, but didn’t work.
Interestingly, Sofia Coppola’s latest film, which is coming to theatres shortly, Somewhere, evokes similar themes found in Lost in Translation:  an early middle aged man, re-examines his life when a young girl – in this case his daughter – enters his life.  I saw the Trailer yesterday and the film looks promising.     
(Book Cover of Antonia's Fraser’s Marie Antoinette: The Journey)

With respect to the book, I started reading Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette: The Journey years ago, I’m ashamed to admit.  As the book isn’t plot driven and because it is divided into six well rounded parts (Madame Antoine, The Dauphine, Queen Consort, Queen and Mother, The Austrian Woman & Widow Capet) it was quite easy to pick-up where I left off, about ¾’s of the way through (in between Queen and Mother and The Austrian Woman), when things turned really bad for Marie Antoinette.

History buffs and persons fascinated by European royalty – I confess to having an interest in both - will enjoy the journey and the detail.  For instance, I’m still awed by the opulent "royal" train of carriages, described by Antonia Fraser - almost a mile long, if I recall correctly – Marie Antoinette, still a young girl, took when she left Austria for France.  As well, it's an interesting yet odd fact to read that Louis XVI, in the early months of his marriage to Marie Antoinette, didn’t know how to have sex. In sum, times were different in 18th Century Versailles, France.
Marie Antoinette: The Journey is an academic study, filled with notes, sources and an index.  As a reader, I really appreciate the matter-of-fact style of storytelling, with little to none extrapolation.  There is no conversation in the text, in part because it is academic, but more because how can Antonia Fraser know what was said, conversationally, some 200+ years ago.
I am almost finished the book, finally.  Louis XVI was just executed and Marie Antoinette is mourning and fearing for her son.  Shortly, in less than 20 pages, Marie Antoinette too will be executed, famously losing her head in the guillotine.  I can't help but wonder what it must have been like, for Marie Antoinette, a former Queen, to walk up those steps of the guillotine, knowing she's going to die.

I heard (somewhere) that you're still conscious for a bit, when you're decapitated.  I wonder for how long?
The picture below shows a realistic (I'm told) portrait of Marie Antoinette from around 1791, two years before she was executed, at the age of 38.  Poor woman (pun intended).
(Portrait of  Marie Antoinette, by Alexandre Kucharsky)
When a film version of Marie Antoinette's life is done again, it should focus on the latter part of her life, rather than the early part, which was Sofia Coppola’s big mistake (I would argue).

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