This is not the “Let them eat cake” queen who dismissed the news that the peasantry was starving or bread with alternative pastry suggestions. This Marie might still bethe hated Austrian wfe of King Louis, but she is cunning enough to know when the game is up, smart enough to want to flee when the news finally reaches her through the insular bubble of Versailles that the peasants have stormed the Bastille.
But she is loyal to her husband, resigned to the trap his sense of duty puts them in. So she frets over trivial things — fabrics she covets, embroiderie she orders.
And she pines for the woman she loves.
“Farewell” is told from the point of view of one of the queen’s “readers,” court servants who go to the court library for her, fetch her favorite books and read tto her each night to help her sleep. Sidonie (Lea Seydoux) is a ravishingly beautiful commoner who only has eyes for her queen.
And since Marie is played by the stunning Diane Kruger (“Troy,” the “National Treasure” movies), we understand.
Each day at court for Sidonie is “like a journey to a far away land,” she confides to the other servants. The rest of France might be starving a disease-stricken in that summer of 1789. But in court, she eats well and only has to worry about the intrigues of other ladies at court, the pecking order of the household and above all, pleasing her queen.
But the queen only has eyes for another, a lady of the court. And since she’s played by the gorgeous Virginie Ledoyen, we understand that, too.
Outside, “the wolves” are “leaving the forest” and revolt has come to the kingdom. But Marie is laregely in the dark. The Bastille?
“Something bad happened there.”
But inside, the court carries on as before, with occasional bursts of energy plotting an escape as the impotent rich fear the rising fury of the mob.
Even though the film begins the day the Bastille was stormed, director Benoît Jacquot preserves the bubble of Versaille as long as possible. “Farewell, My Queen” has an “As It Happens” immediacy to many scenes. But the urgency is always Sidonie sprinting to work, or dashing down to the library, or trying to awaken the sleepy paramour
Gabrielle de Polignac (Leydoyen). Little is seen of the chaos erupting outside.
Only the quickening pace of the score hints at what only a few in the palace realize is happening.
Kruger and Sedoux give shades of flintiness, flirtiness and vulnerability to their characters, and are so good that they overwhelm the film’s sedate pace and meandering sense of which story threads to follow.
History doesn’t let us feel much sympathy for Marie Antoinette. But “Farewell, My Queen” almost has us rooting for her and those who love her by its finale. “Cake” or no cake, that’s no mean feat for any historical revisionist motion picture.
MPAA Rating:R for brief graphic nudity and language
Cast: Lea Seydoux, Diane Kruger, Virginie Ledoyen
Credits:Directed by Benoît Jacquot, written by Jacquot and Gilles Taurand based on the Chantal Thomas novel. A Cohen Media Group release.
Running time: 1:40