Watching Marie Antoinette 0nly because you know so little about French history is like watching Heath Ledger’s A Knight’s Tale to learn about medieval history.


The only difference is that A Knight’s Tale has a plot and is SO much better–even if it too is rather silly.

So why am I dwelling on a movie that’s been out for ages? It’s because what is brilliant about Marie Antoinette is the editing!

Kersten Dunst does do a pretty good job at portraying the extravagant vapidity of Marie Antoinette that probably was responsible for getting the woman killed.

I was waiting for the scene when the French revolutionaries cut off her head.

Geez, I know I’m going to sound like a bloodthirsty barbarian–ahem–a bloodthirsty Muslim barbarian, but I can’t help it.

When you know how something turns out and it’s as vicious as having her head cut off and her dead mouth stuffed with straw, it’s a bit anti-climactic when the last scene just consists of her riding away in her barouche with her cuckolded husband Louis and the two kids.

What I really wanted to know was why she met such a grisly end and the movie does a good job showing that.

By the way, Marie Antoinette never did say, “Let them eat cake.”  I’ve heard that what she really said was, “Let them eat hay.”

This was in response to the raising of the taxes on the poor. French aristocracy were exempt from taxes, the burden of running the country was left to the poor (the 99%–hint, hint–sound familiar?)

With all the expensive wars, including the support of the rebelling American colonies, the pressure was too much–the people had no bread, and they asked what they should do…hence the ‘let them eat hay’ quote.

And this at a time when the queen–an Austrian foreigner–was living in every kind of pampered luxury imaginable.

That’s what the movie’s about.

For over two hours you see Kersten Dunst in wardrobe changes, basically. (I wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t the reason she took the role! I can just picture her squealing: “ooh, I’ll be able to dress up in all those frilly gowns!”)

And yet it’s watchable. Not good, just watchable.


Because of the editing!

From the beginning you feel just a titch sorry for Marie. She’s shuffled off to marry the Dauphin, the prince of France.

And like A Knight’s Tale they updated the story by using a more contemporary style of music. No mincing minuets here! You’ve got rock and roll and a scene where she’s got little more than a fan to cover her nakedness while she’s waiting for her lover to ravish her. Yup quite silly.

But there’s one scene in particular, where with no words whatsoever, you feel just a titch sorry for the hapless blonde and at the same time you see her incredible extravagance.

First you see a woman painting a portrait of Marie and her daughter. Then later you see the portrait of her and her two children. Then there’s a portrait of her and three children. Then people come in somberly, and take down that portrait and replace it with the portrait of her and her two children.

I’m sure it’s been done in other movies as well, but the execution of it in this instance was quite fresh.

Without words you know that her child has died. And you can’t help feeling just a little sorry for the silly extravagant thing!

And it’s much more poignant than if they’d played out the scene.

It’s that kind of originality that makes this rather boring-nothing-really-happens-story, watchable.

And for those of you who write, I urge you to do something similar in your stories.

Don’t be like Jameela Gavin in Coram Boy where she bypasses the climactic scene completely. That’s just dumb (if you’re reading this, sorry Jameela–loved the book EXCEPT for that!) but if you’ve got a number of similar scenes, it’s worth thinking of novel ways of portraying an event.

In fact I did this recently with the Hajj novel I’m working on.

There are a number of scenes where the main character bites off way more than she can chew in terms of her physical abilities. Who’s left to pick up the slack? Her parents. And they do so with great stoicism.

In one of the later scenes, once again she’s over-exerted herself. Instead of showing that scene, I had the girl slowly awake from sleep to hear the other ladies talking about it in the tent. It was a much more powerful way of rendering it, in my opinion.

Remember, this writing business is all about angles.

Vary your approach. Sometimes the straightforward linear approach is NOT the best way to convey the information.

In the scene I mentioned, you get a wider perspective of the narrator’s condition and there’s increased tension between her and her fellow pilgrims.

Good all round!

Would I watch Marie Antoinette again? Nope. No way!

But I did benefit from watching it once. And perhaps you might too.