Color me shocked to discover that Marie-Antoinette, Reine de France, aka Shadow of the Guillotine, had such surprisingly great costumes and hair for 1956. If you know me, you know that I lurves me some Marie-Antoinette, and I’m in the process of trying to watch as many movies about the French queen as I can. It’s particularly interesting to watch the French productions, since obviously she’s their queen, and so she’s a better-understood cultural reference.
Shadow of the Guillotine stars Michèle Morgan as Marie-Antoinette, Richard Todd as Count Axel von Fersen, and Jacques Morel as Louis XVI. And really, anyone else is pretty much background. The movie focuses on Marie-Antoinette’s relationship with Fersen, and although it’s certainly romanticized, in some ways I think they get it pretty right: the two meet, they feel a connection, they hang, everyone gets suspicious, he goes away, things get shitty for Antoinette, he shows back up and tries to help out.
Woven through the Fersen relationship is Antoinette’s story, but the movie is less about her as an individual. I did appreciate seeing a functional, caring relationship with Louis — who, luckily, isn’t portrayed as a drooling nitwit here, just a super bumbling, shy, awkward guy.
I did find myself a bit bored by the last 30 or so minutes, since it’s all the doom and gloom leading up to Antoinette’s execution. I’m very familiar with that part of the story, and it’s less shiny, costume-wise, so it can get old. I will say that Morgan did a great job portraying Antoinette’s emotions on the day of her execution. You really see her digging deep to remain dignified, and it’s very touching.
But, on to the costumes, eh?
Shadow of the Guillotine‘s Costumes
I was really quite pleasantly surprised by just how close to accurate the costumes were, given that this is the 1950s! I was expecting total princess-seam shlock, and while there were certainly some questionable elements, there were other things this movie did better than those coming out today!
I’m mostly going to focus on Antoinette’s costumes, because the movie is 99% her. I will say that her costumes are miiiiiiiles better than any of the other female characters. A good comparison is in the beginning of the movie, as Louis XV’s health is failing, and we see a bit of Mesdames, Louis XVI’s older sisters. Their costumes are a good example of those worn by the non-leads:
But now, on to Marie-Antoinette and Fersen. When they first meet, it’s at an opera ball. Antoinette’s dress is a little synthetic-y, but otherwise a nice take on a 1770s anglaise. Fersen is all powder blue with sparkly embroidery. His wig looks possibly powdered in this shot, but don’t believe it — while the style of all the wigs/hair is pretty or quite good, it’s all shiny white.
While waiting for the news that Louis XV has died and they’re now king and queen, Louis rocks the blue velvet while Antoinette is in grey and dark red. I assume her dark color scheme is because of the king being ill? It’s not actual mourning wear. I wish I could see the back of the dress, but the silhouette and trim layout are great.
This floral pet-en-l’air was pretty, and I LOVE this lavender and black jacket on Louis!
When Fersen comes to court and he and Antoinette meet again, she’s in a powder blue court dress. It could really use another petticoat or three to cover the hoop lines, and the neckline is far too low, but otherwise I quite liked it. The embroidery on her lady-in-waiting’s pink dress isn’t 100% 18th century, but I liked that it reminded me of late 18th c. robe parés!
My favorite dress is this white and pink robe à la polonaise. I was SHOCKED, I tell you, SHOCKED to see how accurate this dress was cut and styled. It’s straight out of a 1770s painting. Okay, so the sleeves could be a little bit longer, but otherwise, hot damn!
The extras in the scene, however…
I have to admit, I don’t remember seeing this blue and white riding habit on screen! But it’s so spiffy that it required inclusion.
When Antoinette says farewell to Fersen, her hair has morphed into a 1780s style long ahead of anyone else. I could quibble, since I think it’s still the 1770s, but because they actually got the back of the hair relatively correct (which hardly anyone does), I’m just going to be thankful!
This blue robe à l’anglaise is clearly based on the famous Vigée-le Brun portrait. Although the portrait dress is probably a robe à la française, I can deal with the change given the glories of No Back Lacing. The fiber content, however, is questionable.
There’s a time jump, then Fersen shows back up as the shit starts to go down and the Revolution looms. When he and Antoinette first meet again, it’s at her hameau (the faux-peasant village that’s near the Petit Trianon, where Antoinette played shepherdess). Antoinette is wearing a pretty damn good chemise à la reine!
The one other problem I have with all of the dresses shown so far you can kind of see in the chemise images above, but this shot of a lady-in-waiting below is a better example. While I love that they were wearing big poufy rumps, they extended REALLY far back, more so than I’ve seen for this era.
Antoinette wears this stripey dress for the famous scene when the Parisian women march on Versailles, and she has to go out on the balcony and face them all. I didn’t love this dress — it’s very limp, and the transition between the stripes on the bodice and the skirt seems overly awkward.
When the royal family is imprisoned in the Tuileries, Antoinette wears this lovely robe à l’anglaise that I would be totally thrilled with if not for the back lacing.
And, when the royal family tries to escape (the mythical “flight to Varennes”), she rocks this amazing black and white outfit that would be simply pretty, but with the black and white striped bows? AMAZE-BALLS.
Finally, here’s the famous guillotine outfit with cropped hair, simple cap, and tied loose jacket:
What’s your favorite Marie-Antoinette movie?