Ladies in waiting for the final curtain call
Farewell, My Queen (Les Adieux a la Reine) Fast & Furious 6 (Furious 6)
(M) ★★★ Limited release
(M) ★★✩✩✩ AREWELL, My Queen follows events that take place across just four days — June 14-17, 1789 — a momentous period in which the French monarchy’s doom was sealed. There have been many films on this subject, including the lavish 1938 MGM version, Marie Antoinette, with Norma Shearer as the queen and Robert Morley giving a remarkably good performance as Louis XVI, as well as Sofia Coppola’s postmodern effort of the same name, made in 2006. French filmmakers, unsurprisingly, have also tackled the material, most notably with Jean Delannoy’s 1956 version in which Michele Morgan portrayed the doomed monarch. In the new film — not so new, actually, since it opened the Berlin festival in February last year — Diane Kruger plays Marie Antoinette, but the story of her approaching downfall is told from an unusual perspective, that of Sidonie Laborde, the young woman hired by the court to read books to the queen.
Sidonie is played by the talented young Lea Seydoux, so the film marks the re-teaming of the two actresses from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Sidonie adores the queen, despite the latter’s temper tantrums and caprices. Indeed, she has what amounts to a crush on her mistress who, however, is far more interested, sexually speaking, in her favourite, the Duchess de Polignac, Gabrielle de Polastron (Virginie Ledoyen).
At the beginning, director Benoit Jacquot — who has been making films since the mid1970s but whose work is virtually unknown in Australia — establishes a confined world of pettiness and excess, completely isolated from events taking place outside the palace of Versailles, not so very far away in Paris where, on June 14, the Bastille has fallen. When the news reaches the court the following day, rumours spread like wildfire, including the existence of a ‘‘ wanted’’ list of 286 courtiers destined to be beheaded, among them the Duchess de Polignac.
As the internal chaos mounts, Sidonie attempts to interpret what is happening and what is likely to happen, no easy task in these confusing circumstances. The queen’s eventual demand of her is chillingly self-serving and ruthless, but Sidonie never hesitates to obey the commands of the woman she loves and admires.
Seydoux is in virtually every scene and confirms her talent as an actress (talent further confirmed in Cannes last month with her remarkable portrayal of a lesbian in the Palme d’Or-winning Blue is the Warmest Colour).
But Farewell, My Queen, adapted from a novel by Chantal Thomas, is frustrating in that it withholds all information about the young