Movie Review: Marie Antoinette: A Film by David Grubin (2006)

June 16th, 2009 11:59 pm by Kelly Garbato

The condensed version of Antonia Fraser’s biography

four out of five stars

After listening to Antonia Fraser’s excellent and exhaustive biography of Marie Antoinette on audiobook (MARIE ANTOINETTE: THE JOURNEY), I immediately hopped onto Netflix in search of a related documentary or two. The only one to catch my eye was David Grubin’s MARIE ANTOINETTE: A FILM. Try as I might, I can’t help but critique Grubin’s film in relation to Fraser’s biography.

Grubin’s MARIE ANTOINETTE clocks in at about two hours, compared to the 20+ hour narration of Fraser’s MARIE ANTOINETTE. While it might seem unfair to compare the two for this reason alone, they do share a similar story arc and cover much the same ground. In fact, Grubin includes snippets of interviews with several French historians in MARIE ANTOINETTE, one of whom is Antonia Fraser herself!

Given the time limitation, Grubin does a decent enough job of detailing the life and death of Marie Antoinette, starting with her childhood in Vienna, Austria, and ending with her death at the hands of “revolutionaries” in Paris, France. Even so, Grubin barely scratches the surface; for example, though he attempts to examine Marie Antoinette’s psychological, social and intellectual development, the audience is only beginning to get a feel for Marie Antoinette the person by film’s end. Additionally, Grubin raises a few controversial points – such as Marie Antoinette’s relationship with Count Ferson – which is unfortunate, because he’s unable to examine points of contention on anything but a superficial level. For example, Fraser dealt with historical controversies by returning to contemporary accounts of the events (diaries, letters, etc.), detailing various modern views on the issue, and then concluding with her own reasoned interpretation of the evidence. Grubin simply doesn’t have enough time to do the same.

On the plus side, Grubin’s film boasts one momentous advantage over Fraser’s (audio)book – visual aids! Grubin interlaces interviews and narration with video and stills for stunning visual effects. MARIE ANTOINETTE: A FILM highlights a number of contemporary images, including portraits of Marie Antoinette and her friends and family, as well as scores of pages from then-scandalous pamphlets and propaganda – much of which contains nudity and sketches of a sexual nature (thankfully, none is censored). Grubin juxtaposes modern video of historical places – Versailles, Le Petit Trianon, Vienna – with these historical images, thus allowing the audience access to the places significant to Madame Antoine’s child- and adulthood.

Additionally, I thought that Grubin’s recounting of the French Revolution was more linear and easier to follow than was Fraser’s. Fraser interspersed her accounts of the revolutionary political climate in France with its effects on Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, while Grubin offered a lean – but informative – summary towards the end of his film.

All in all, I enjoyed MARIE ANTOINETTE: A FILM, but coming off of MARIE ANTOINETTE: THE JOURNEY, felt as though I’d already heard much of Grubin’s story. Newbies will probably find MARIE ANTOINETTE: A FILM a nice introduction to the topic, while history buffs might like the film’s visuals. All in all, a keeper.

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed under , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply