Few historical persons, real or fictional, have inspired as much pop culture as 18th-century French queen Marie Antoinette. Possibly Anne Boleyn could give her a run for her money, but Marie Antoinette has been alternately loved, hated, admired, copied — and filmed. Queen Marie Antoinette in movies & TV — let’s take a look at as many of her appearances as we can track down!
Born an Archduchess of Austria, in 1770 Marie Antoinette married Louis-Auguste, Dauphin (heir to the throne) of France. Four years later she became Queen. Throughout her time in France, she became known for being obsessed with fashion, conflicted in her alliances between Austria and France, and the symbol of the luxuriousness that typified the French nobility and monarchy before the French Revolution.
Here’s our run down of Marie Antoinette on screen — her appearances as a character on both big and small screens:
Caveat: there are a LOT of French TV productions featuring Marie Antoinette, and tracking them all down was impossible! French readers, let us know if we missed any big ones.
Le Collier de la Reine (1929)
AKA: The Queen’s Necklace
Who played her? Diana Karenne, a Polish actress.
What’s it about? The “affair of the necklace.” Loosely based on the Alexandre Dumas novel. It was one of the first French sound films, although it actually had a recorded score and some sound effects.
Is it any good? It was a huge hit when it was released. The New York Times says, “Why the Countess goes to all this trouble is never made clear…” Anybody seen it?
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
Who played her? Fay Wray, lead bombshell from King Kong.
What’s it about? A spunky reporter discovers that all is not what it seems at a VERY creepy wax museum. Marie Antoinette plays a similar role in the 1953 remake.
Is it any good? Absolutely, although Marie Antoinette is only a (suspiciously believable) wax figure. Great if you love vintage horror — the final scenes where the sh*t gets real at the wax museum are highly entertaining.
Madame du Barry (1934)
Who played her: Anita Louise, who would go on to play the Princesse de Lamballe in the 1938 film about Marie Antoinette.
What’s it about? Told from the not-so-historically-accurate point of view of Mme du Barry (Dolores del Rio), famous mistress to Louis XV. Supposedly real 18th century antiques and jewelry were used in the production.
Is it any good? It’s on my to-watch list, so I can’t say myself, but it’s gotten good reviews on IMDB — although coming out just after the Hays Code, it was pretty heavily censored. Leonard Maltin says it has an “intriguing cast” and “lavish costumes and sets,” but that the plot is “superficial.”
La Marseillaise (1938)
Who played her? Lise Delamare, French actress known for playing historical figures (she also played Anne of Austria and Marie de Medici).
What’s it about? The French Revolution from different perspectives: citizens of Marseilles, exiled nobility, and the king and queen. It was intended as a metaphor for the French Popular Front, an anti-fascist government coalition.
Is it any good? There are a few people on IMDB who are raving about it. It’s got a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, which one reviewer summing it up as, “Fascinating (but not wholly successful).”
Marie Antoinette (1938)
Who played her? Norma Shearer, a hugely popular American/Canadian actress known for this and The Women.
What’s it about? A biography of Marie Antoinette from when she left the Austrian court, up through her execution. It’s very focused on the queen as a sympathetic character, and her relationship with Count Fersen is heightened melodramatically.
Is it any good? YES YES YES. Okay, so you have to like “classic” film and be able to deal with the hand-staple-forehead melodrama of it. And the costumes are definitely Hollywood-ized and 1930s-ized. But they are OVER THE TOP STUNNING. Froof. Lamé. Metallics. Jewels up the WAZOO. AND THE HAIR. THE WIGS ARE OUTSTANDING. Norma Shearer gives a surprisingly nuanced performance as the queen, and her acting during her imprisonment/execution is really touching.
L’Affaire du Collier de la Reine (1946)
AKA: The Affair of the Queen’s Necklace
Who played her? Marion Dorian, who only has two credits on IMDB and about whom I can find very little!
What’s it about? The “affair of the necklace,” again.
Is it any good? Haven’t seen it, can’t really find much info about it online, except that it portrays the Comtesse de la Motte as a schemer.
Who played her? Nina Foch, prolific actress known for playing sophisticated foreign women.
What’s it about? Based on the 1921 novel, it tells the story of a young lawyer who becomes an actor during the French Revolution, with a lot of swashbuckling. There’s also a 1923 version of the film, although Marie Antoinette is an uncredited part in that one, which makes me assume she’s not really in it.
Is it any good? Leonard Maltin recommends it for its “excellent cast” and the longest duel in cinema history (is that really a plus?). Lots of people on IMDB agree! Apparently Nina Foch wore some of Norma Shearer’s gowns from Marie Antoinette (1938).
Madame du Barry (1954)
Who played her? Isabelle Pia, French actress active in the 1950s.
What’s it about? Another take on Louis XV’s famous mistress.
Is it any good? I started watching this and found it somewhat tedious, but I promise to go back and try again on behalf of The Quest. Online reviews say that the acting is very good, but the plot somewhat superficial.
Si Versailles M’Etait Conté (1954)
AKA: Royal Affairs in Versailles
Who played her? Lana Marconi, Romanian-French actress who only appeared in her actor/director/playwright husband’s (Sacha Guitry) films.
What’s it about? Several episodes in French history that focus on Versailles.
Is it any good? Leonard Maltin says it has an “impressive cast” but is “static” and “leaden-paced.”
Shadow of the Guillotine / Marie Antoinette Reine de France (1956)
Who played her? Michèle Morgan, a French actress who was hugely popular in that country in the 1940s-50s.
What’s it about? It focuses on the years of the Revolution, from 1789-93, and focuses on the queen’s relationship with Count Axel von Fersen.
Is it any good? Some reviewers say good things, but nobody’s raving about it. Have you seen it?
Si Paris Nous Etait Conté (1956)
AKA: If Paris Were Told to Us
Who played her? Lana Marconi again.
What’s it about? Various scenes in French history that center on Paris, told in impressionistic, not necessarily chronological order.
Is it any good? The few reviewers on IMDB say that it’s funny and pageant-y (not beauty pageant-y, but song/dance/theater pageant-y).
The Story of Mankind (1957)
Who played her? Marie Wilson, American actress known for playing the dumb blonde.
What’s it about? The devil and the “spirit of mankind” argue for and against the fate of humanity.
Is it any good? Apparently it’s VERY campy and made it into a book of the 50 worst films of all time. This may appeal to you!
La Fayette (1961)
Who played her? Liselotte Pulver, German cinema star of the 1940s-50s.
What’s it about? The life of the Marquis de La Fayette, focusing on his role in the American Revolution. Apparently it was the most expensive movie ever made, at the time!
Is it any good? A few mixed reviews online, but not a lot of detail. Have you seen it?
Start the Revolution Without Me (1970)
Who played her? Billie Whitelaw, stage actress and demonic nanny from The Omen.
What’s it about? Slapstick comedy about twins switched at birth, whose identities are mistaken and switched. Marie Antoinette is an annoying nymphomaniac with bad hair. See our post for more info.
Is it any good? Nope. The movie is unfunny, and the portrayal of Marie Antoinette is as inaccurate as you can get.
Marie Antoinette (1975)
Who played her? Geneviève Casile, French actress primarily known for her stage work.
What’s it about? TV miniseries with a big budget, filmed at Versailles, with an unsympathetic look at the title character.
Is it any good? I can’t find any reviews! Let us know if you’ve seen it.
Waffen für Amerika (1976)
AKA: Weapons for America
Who played her? Christine Böhm, Austrian stage actress who died young.
What’s it about? German TV movie, which was an adaptation of a historical novel focusing on Beaumarchais and Benjamin Franklin.
Is it any good? Another one that’s been hard to find any real info on!
The Rose of Versailles (1979-1980)
Who played her? She’s animated!
What’s it about? Japanese manga (comic book) that was adapted into a TV series. The story focuses on Oscar François de Jarjayes, a girl raised as a boy in order to follow her father’s footsteps in the palace guards.
Is it any good? Well, based on the number of cosplay references I’ve encountered, apparently a large group of people think so! The book series is currently 14th on a list of all-time best sellers in manga, and lots of people rave about the TV series.
Lady Oscar (1979)
Who played her? Christine Böhm again.
What’s it about? A live-action adaptation of The Rose of Versailles.
Is it any good? It’s gotten lackluster reviews, and for sure, images of Lady Oscar herself look pretty cheeseball.
Liberté, Egalité, Choucroute (1985)
AKA: Liberty, Equality, Sauerkraut
Who played her? Ursula Andress – yes, the first Bond girl.
What’s it about? Parody film in which Louis XVI escapes to Baghdad.
Is it any good? It’s gotten mostly negative reviews online, although I can’t find much detail.
La Révolution Française (1989)
Who played her? Jane Seymour, English actress best known for Somewhere in Time and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
What’s it about? Two-part film that attempts to tell the story of the Revolution from both sides.
Is it any good? It’s been praised for its historical accuracy and dinged for being somewhat muddled and dispassionate (especially in the first film). Nonetheless, the images I’ve seen certainly look exciting, and it’s been on my to-watch list for years, but I haven’t been able to track it down… until I just spotted the whole thing on YouTube! Yay! I’m halfway through the first film, and already I can tell you that the wigs KICK ASS.
La Comtesse de Charny (1989)
Who played her? French actress Isabelle Guiard.
What’s it about? TV mini-series based on a series of Alexandre Dumas novels. A fictional lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette gets enmeshed in various dramas.
Is it any good? Yet another that’s been hard to find any opinions on. Tell us yours!
L’Eté de la Révolution (1989)
AKA: The Summer of the Revolution
Who played her? Brigitte Fossey, French actress known for working with director François Truffaut.
What’s it about? Uh, the French Revolution?
Is it any good? I CAN’T FIND ANYTHING! Aidez-moi!
AKA: The Austrian
Who played her? Ute Lemper, a German actress known for her stage work.
What’s it about? The trial and execution of Marie Antoinette. Apparently the script is entirely based on her trial transcript! It looks like there’s a few flashbacks to more glamorous days, but it’s mostly her on trial.
Is it any good? Lots of French viewers rave about this one, so put it high on your list — it’s high on mine! It looks like the whole thing is on YouTube, starting with this video.
Jefferson in Paris (1995)
Who played her? Charlotte de Turckheim, French actress.
What’s it about? Thomas Jefferson, when he was ambassador to France, just before the French Revolution — focusing on his relationships with Maria Cosway and Sally Hemings. There are a few brief scenes at which Marie Antoinette is present.
Is it any good? Yes, with some small quibbles about whether the film gives enough weight to Jefferson’s relationship with Hemings. Beyond that, it’s well-acted and has STUNNING costumes. This is one of my favorite depictions of Marie Antoinette from a purely visual standpoint — I think they really cast an actress with the right look.
Who played her? Mirabelle Kirkland, English actress primarily known for her voice work.
What’s it about? A provincial French nobleman comes to Versailles for practical reasons, only to become enmeshed in the petty intrigues of the courtiers. Marie Antoinette is only glimpsed in two quick scenes, and she has very little dialogue.
Is it any good? Definitely! It’s an interesting take on the artifice and drama of the 18th-century nobility. The costumes are so/so, but the story is good enough that I recommend it nonetheless. I question making Marie Antoinette a redhead (she was a strawberry blonde, but hello, powder!), but again, she’s a super minor character.
Beaumarchais l’Insolent (1996)
Who played her? Judith Godrèche, French actress who played the ingenue in Ridicule.
What’s it about? The life of Pierre Beaumarchais, playwright, financier, and spy during the American Revolution and his writing of the Figaro plays.
Is it any good? It’s gotten mixed reviews online, but it did get nominated for some Césars (the French Oscars), including for costume.
Let Them Eat Cake (1999)
Who played her? Elizabeth Berrington, British TV actress.
What’s it about? British comedy team French & Saunders play the Comtesse de Vache, a fictional aristocrat at the court of Versailles, and her bawdy lady-in-waiting. Marie Antoinette shows up in a few episodes with some great gowns and a RIDICULOUS Austrian accent.
Is it any good? It’s freakin’ HILARIOUS. Watch the first 6 minutes of this episode and tell me if you’re not crying because you’re laughing so hard.
The Affair of the Necklace (2001)
Who played her? Joely Richardson, English actress known for films like The Patriot and the TV series Nip/Tuck.
What’s it about? Ye olde affair of the necklace again, this time with a SUPER mushy take on the Comtesse de La Motte.
Is it any good? It’s a mixed bag — some weird casting choices, too much melodrama — but the supporting cast is excellent, the costumes are STUNNING, and Adrien Brody’s towel. Listen to our podcast for more deets! Joely Richardson does a fabulous job with Marie Antoinette.
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Who played her? Kirsten Dunst, American actress known for Interview with the Vampire, Spider-Man, and Melancholia.
What’s it about? A sympathetic take on the queen, from leaving Austria until her arrest by revolutionaries.
Is it any good? Yes yes yes! It’s probably a little bit TOO sympathetic to Marie Antoinette, and the pacing is slow for some, but it’s really well done and the costumes are generally gorgeous. Listen to our podcast for more!
Marie Antoinette, la Véritable Histoire (2006)
AKA: Marie Antoinette, the True History
Who played her? Karine Vanasse, French-Canadian actress.
What’s it about? A drama-documentary about Marie Antoinette shot almost entirely using green screen technology.
Is it any good? It’s weird, because I see references to it all over the place, but nobody actually says they’ve seen it or if it’s any good! The whole thing is on YouTube, but it’s in French with Portugese subtitles.
Ce Jour Là, Tout a Changé (2009)
AKA: The Days That Made History
Who played her? Estelle Skornik, French actress known for From Hell and Horatio Hornblower: The Wrong War.
What’s it about? TV series tracing important episodes in French history; one episode was about Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Is it any good? Once again, I’m coming up empty.
Louis XVI, l’Homme qui ne Voulait pas Etre Roi (2011)
AKA: Louis XVI, the Man Who Did Not Want to Be King
Who played her? Raphaëlle Agogué, French actress.
What’s it about? A drama-documentary about Louis XVI from 17774 through his death.
Is it any good? It’s gotten mostly positive reviews on IMDB. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube!
Farewell My Queen (2012)
AKA: Les Adieux à la Reine
Who played her? Diane Kruger, German actress known for Troy and Inglorious Basterds.
What’s it about? Based on a novel, it tells the story of the final days of Marie Antoinette at Versailles through the eyes of her fictional reader. The story focuses on Marie’s relationship with the Duchesse de Polignac.
Is it any good? It’s not BAD, per se. The acting is quite well done, and if you’re not bothered by the fictional characters and take on things, it’s kind of interesting to see some aspects of the Revolution from the perspective of an insider (but not one of the royals). The costumes are a mixed bag. There are some pretty dresses and suits which are decently accurate, but then some weird fabric choices and inaccurate/ugly necklines. The women’s hair annoyed me, because styles of different eras are all mixed up together (and Polignac’s hair is just random). Le Costume Historique has a great post that nitpicks (in the best possible way) what they got wrong (it’s in French, but non-French readers will still appreciate the images — she Photoshopped some stills from the movie to show how they could be made more accurate).
Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014)
Who played her? Animated, again!
What’s it about? Mr. Peabody (the smartest person in the world, and also a dog) takes Sherman on adventures through time.
Is it any good? Yes! It’s super cute and fun. Marie Antoinette really loves cake, and she just wants to share it with you…
Did we miss any key appearances of Queen Marie Antoinette in movies & TV? Let us know in the comments!
Major shout-out to the Boudoir de Marie Antoinette forum for many of the photos and clues to French productions!