Blog Directory CineVerse: An empress on the outs

An empress on the outs

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Palace intrigue pictures and period costume dramas have entertained audiences for generations. A recent standout in this subgenre is Farewell, My Queen, which uses the last days of the French monarchy as a backdrop for a tale about a commoner determined to serve her endangered queen Marie Antoinette. This film got the CineVerse treatment last week, with numerous opinions given and observations made during our group discussion (which you can listen to here). Here’s a summary of our conversation:

What did you find notable, unexpected, distinctive, or satisfying about Farewell, My Queen?

  • The setting is the start of the French Revolution, but we aren’t shown any beheadings or violence. For that matter, the story is entirely told from the perspective of the queen’s faithful servants, particularly her reader Sidonie.
  • This is not a story about Marie Antoinette – it’s about one of her servants and the way that monarchs use their power, and the access they grant to that power, to create a hierarchical structure in which power dynamics can shift depending on how close you are to the king or queen.
  • Also, this is not an action narrative: it’s a reaction narrative, in which suspense and intrigue are built by following the reactions of the queen’s servants to an impending revolution.
  • The camera seems to be voyeuristically prowling about, as evidenced by how it follows Sidonie around (often from behind) and lingers on bustiers, cleavage, and naked bodies. While it’s doubtful that the filmmakers were trying to be prurient and exploitative, the way the lens focuses on the female form suggests perhaps that this is a male-dominated society in which females were treated as objects.

Themes at work

  • The contrast between the haves and have-nots. Farewell, My Queen depicts the opulence and decadence of the royal household versus the grimy, tainted banality of the commoners’ and peons’ habitats. We see the power, privilege, and wealth that the monarchy commands compared to the relative lack of agency, freedom, and resources that the Queen’s subjects possess.
    • Slant magazine’s Jesse Cataldo wrote: “Control is the operative element in Benoît Jacquot’s work, with the main caveat being that when someone has it, someone else does not. This prevailing concept sets the stage for detailed examinations of interpersonal power dynamics, presented as games or struggles, with an acute eye toward the roles and responsibilities of women.”
    • Likewise, we see imagery and hear evidence of vermin and pests like rats, mosquitoes, and spiders representing the inability of the royal household to remain pure, clean, and unblemished and signifying impending doom and decay.
  • Running out of time. We know from the dates given that it’s only a matter of time before heads will roll and the monarchy comes crashing down in France. This film depicts a handful of days that lead up to those monumental events, and the predominant symbol at work is the royal clock lent to Sidonie; once that clock is stolen, order and structure begin to collapse and the countdown to the end of an era for the royalty and its court begins. The takeaway? Nothing lasts forever, especially something created by human beings, who are fallible and impermanent.
  • The secret lives of women both powerful and unpowerful in a world controlled by men. Farewell, My Queen features predominantly female characters, shining a spotlight on the private passions, proclivities, and lifestyles of women just prior to the French Revolution. Interestingly, Sidonie begins the film as a servant but ends it as a survivor, outliving her female counterparts. Consider, also, that Sidonie appears to have a young crush on the queen and demonstrates her undying fealty to Marie Antoinette.

Similar works

  • Previous films about or featuring Marie Antoinette as a character, including Madame Du Barry (1934), Marie Antoinette (1938), and The Affair of the Necklace (2001), and Marie Antoinette (2006)
  • A Royal Affair (2012)
  • The Duchess (2008)
  • The Girl King (2015)
  • The Favourite (2018)
  • The Lady and the Duke (2001)
  • The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Other works by Benoit Jacquot

  • La Désenchantée
  • A Single Girl
  • Deep In the Woods
  • Three Hearts
  • Diary of a Chambermaid

  © Blogger template Cumulus by 2008

Back to TOP