Is One Nation, One King (2018) the best movie ever? Probably not — it’s too detached from all its main characters to really have that kind of emotional impact. Is it an interesting take on the French Revolution? Definitely! These days we’re so fascinated by Marie-Antoinette that we forget how crucial the king — Louis XVI personally, but moreso the king as a concept — was to France and the Revolution. Are the costumes amazingly good? Yes, even if there’s not a ton of shiny. Are the wigs jaw-droppingly fabulous? Yes, I almost peed myself!!
The film was directed and written by Pierre Schoeller, who interestingly worked on Versailles the TV show. Clearly he had a burning urge to make some more serious points, because One Nation, One King (Un peuple et son roi — literally “A People and Its King” — in French) is really an examination of the relationship between the French populace and the king during the French Revolution. Initially, Louis XVI was seen as the French people’s savior — if only they could get him away from all the corrupting influences of the aristocracy at Versailles, Louis would be the one to bring rights to the French and end their suffering. Of course, that changed drastically over the course of the Revolution, ending with the king’s beheading. How did that transition happen? is the question the movie asks.
The film mostly focuses on a fictional lower-class woman named Françoise, who lives near the Bastille and gets involved in the Revolution. However, there’s a lot of scenes in the National Assembly and Convention, with Louis XVI himself, and with other revolutionaries. But it’s very episodic, and aside from a romantic connection that develops between Françoise and another character, there’s not a lot of personal emotional exploration. Instead, Schoeller was clearly more interested in bigger picture questions and dynamics, and while I can’t imagine I’d watch this movie over and over, I highly recommend it.
Costumes in One Nation, One King
The costumes were designed by Anaïs Romand (Children of the Century, Les Destinées, The Last Mistress, The Nun, Diary of a Chambermaid), and she was nominated for a César (the French Oscar) for her work on this film. In interviews, she mentions the usual budgetary challenges, as well as the fact that France’s last theatrical costume rental warehouse has closed, meaning there’s no stock to pull from. Given that the film focuses so much on the lower classes, that was her focus, and she tried to make the costumes look real:
I am very proud of this film, there is a real aesthetic, we forget the costume on the characters, none of them looks disguised. When the extras rested between two shots, I watched them in their modern and casual postures with their costumes, they looked very natural… (Google translate of Anaïs Romand, le cinéma au fil du temps).
Now, let’s take a look at those costumes so you can see what I’m raving about! I do have to complain that I tried to take a bunch of screenshots, only to discover that because I watched this on iTunes, Apple blocked me from screenshotting — which is bullshit. So I’m having to make do, image-wise, with what I can find online.
Unfortunately, the only middle-class women are in the background, generally observing the National Assembly/Convention. Which is too bad, both because they definitely participated in the Revolution, and what I could see of their costumes looked great.
Louis XVI is the focus here, and he’s dressed VERY nicely (although he wears this purple coat a bit too often). My only real complaint was that the actor who played him was very obviously wearing a padded belly; the real Louis was a bigger guy, and it showed in his face as well.
Marie-Antoinette is a total background figure here. She’s in about three scenes, and she literally gets one line. Which I actually found interesting, given how much more of a political role Louis XVI had, and how much he is usually overshadowed by the vitriol focused at/our fascination with his queen. I definitely liked what they had her and her ladies wearing, although I was confused why they went with a super young and conventionally pretty actress (who is Marissa Berenson’s doppelgänger) instead of an appropriately older actress who had more of Marie-Antoinette’s haughty look. If you’re not going to need her to do anything, why not go for someone with the right look?
For a great view of what late 1780s hairstyles look like, check out this amazing 3D view of a bust of Marie-Antoinette:
One of the two main foci in the film, and I was glad to see it, because even a cursory scan of the French Revolution will tell you that women played key, active roles in it. I was happy to see a lot of appropriate prints and almost everyone with a cap or some kind of head covering, even if there was a bit too much scraggly hair flying around. My one complaint was that Françoise was most often dressed in her shift and stays, without a jacket or dress over it, and I question how much that was really done. (Also, her shift was almost always falling off one shoulder or the other, which, girl, get your crap organized!).
Compare all that to some period images of French revolutionary women:
My one other beef was with the number of women who had stringy hair hanging out of their caps. Yes, you’re poor, you don’t own a comb or a mirror. But you DO want to get your hair out of your face because you’re working!
One real-life historical figure shown was the “Reine Audu,” a fruit-seller who helped lead the women’s march on Versailles. She’s often shown in period images sitting on a cannon, so I thought it was great they had her doing that in the film!
This is the other focus, and DAMN THEY DID AN AMAZING JOB HERE. Everything was Spot The Fuck On to the early 1790s, with giant collars and cuffs, and the wigs. THE WIGS. More on those in a second.
And finally, because my jaw was literally dropped for most of the film, I need to give a MASSIVE SHOUT-OUT to whoever designed the hair. IMDB credits Lucie Musci as the hair department head, with Virginie Berland as the wig maker, and someone give these two all the money in the world to do all the 18th century-set films/TV shows in the future, because DAY-UM. Not only did they get the general 18th-century style correct — short on top, long in back — and the right matte, powdered look, they got that weird square-ish shape that was fashionable in the early 1790s, and the many, many wig style variations of the period. MAD MAD PROPS HERE, PEOPLE.
To start, check out this 3D of a bust of the Marquis de La Fayette, and pay particular attention to the contrast between front hair — square shape, curly, tucked under in back — and the long back “queue.”
Now, let’s get it ON:
Have you watched One Nation, One King? What did you think?