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 était 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!
I watched the docu with Karinne Vanasse online somewhere. My French is only passable so I couldn’t understand much, but I think they made it as a response to the Coppola movie. The costumes are okay; I think most of the ones that they didn’t recreate from the portraits came from stock. She wears this one orange striped dress that is fabulous, dahling.
Also watched the 1975 Marie Antoinette online somewhere (I think on the website on that screen shot); LOTS OF POLYESTER, and yeah, their version of MA seemed kinda bitchy.
“Ce Jour Là, Tout a Changé” I actually found to be kind of riveting. Again, I couldn’t understand everything, but I liked it. Good costumes from what I can remember.
“Louis XVI, l’Homme qui ne Voulait pas Etre Roi” I think is part of a series about the history of Versailles; there are episodes about Louis XIV and Louis XV too.
“L’Autrichienne” is really, really good. I wish I could find a version with English subtitles.
Also, Norma Shearer was Canadian.
Yay, thanks for the input! Shearer was CANADIAN? egads! Yeah, that 1975 one looked sketchy. Glad to hear some of those more recent ones were good!
Great write up! New stuff to add to the old costume movie que…
And I love how the Peabody and Sherman Marie looks like a well-fed 18th C version of Frozen’s Elsa.
Ha! I was thinking she’d be fun to cosplay…
I like her winged eyeliner.
“Marie Antoinette, la Véritable Histoire” is for me the most accurate movie about Marie Antoinette. I have it on DVD (distributed by France 2 – you can buy it on Amazon.fr). It was made with the help of Versailles and the french national archive + French and Canadian actors.
I really love it. It show how Marie Antoinette was like us, a human with her bad and good side, actress of her time.
It’s a pity that non french people can’t understand it. (I’m Belgian btw and lived 5 years near Versailles in the french Yvelines)
Personally, I must say, I hated the version of coppola. It’s so inaccurate, so american Hollywood looking…. okay it’s beautiful for the eyes but so false historically. :/
Anyway, great list :)
Anyone else look at the still from Madame du Barry (1934) and want to just rotate the fabric so the stripes are going the correct direction?
The 1938 Marie Antoinette is possibly the most stunning film in terms of sheer lavishness ever. The costumes aren’t totally accurate but the surface detail is. The way they just heap hand embroidery and antique lace on the costumes (even extras) is unbelievable.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t L’Autrichienne translate to “The Austrian B*tch”?
It can! It’s a play on words. It literally means “the Austrian” but the feminine version of the term “French requires gendered versions). “Chienne” means female dog or bitch. So yes, they were technically calling her “the (female) Austrian” but also implying “bitch.”
A couple of notes on “Rose of Versailles:” In the original comic, it follows the life of Marie Antoinette, and begins with her birth. Oscar ended up being such a popular character, that the cartoon show starts with Oscar’s birth, and there are adaptations named for Oscar.
Also, “Rose of Versailles” is a very popular musical, performed by the all female Takarazuka musical theater troupe.
It’s not a film, but the French musical ‘1789: Les Amants de la Bastille’ has a delightful and surprisingly sympathetic Marie Antoinette. The costumes are about what you’d expect from a French musical theatre production (glittery, over the top, not accurate in the slightest, and did I mention glittery?) but they definitely bring the drama. Marie Antoinette’s opening number features a pink powdered wig with feathers in it, matryoshka doll-style dresses, and the most delightfully campy master of ceremonies imaginable. Other highlights of the production include Robespierre with eyeliner dancing on a printing press, a surprisingly touching scene of Marie Antoinette getting ready to be executed, and an entire song about the women’s march on Versailles. There’s also a made up love story between imaginary characters, but we try to ignore that.
Link to the first court number: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=624vzFlOgAM
Link to the execution montage scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFdCLOTiEck (Marie Antoinette is the one in white, the first woman with her is, I believe, the Comtesse de Polignac, and the other one is the lead female OC)
And, just for fun, link to the printing press number: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyXadEBx-aE (first guy in the yellow jacket is the lead male OC, the guy in blue is Danton, the one in the yellow possibly striped suit is Desmoulin, and the one in black and red is Robespierre. I believe that the guy being pushed offstage on the press at 3:15 or so is Marat)
Riyoko Ikeda, the author of “Rose of Versailles” studied (French) history, so, in the manga, most historical facts are accurate, although the costumes and some settings were sacrificed for a romanticized Japanese view of European princesses dresses and looks.
It’s still an awesome story, that follows Marie Antoinette, Fersen and Oscar’s stories in parallel as they’re intertwined. But the protagonist, both in the manga and anime is unmistakeably Oscar, although the title’s “Rose of Versailles” is Marie Antoinette.
You should read the manga and watch the anime. I’m almost sure Sofia Coppola did at least skim through it.
Both are definitely on my list!
The anime Rose of Versailles is kind of slow in places, but it’s also remarkably historically accurate! (As to the events in Antoinette’s life when she journeys to and begins living at the palace) I learned more about her life watching this than any history book :)
Also they took some liberties with the costumes, puffed sleeves, off shoulder etc, but some of the original illustrations were beautiful, with great curls and amazing hats!
Hey! No Marie Antoinette, but have I written about the best camp vintage take on the 18th century ever? It does have Catherine the Great – Josef Baky’s 1943 Münchhausen, a huge, expensive Technicolor spectacle ordered by Goebbels (yes, really) to celebrate the German film company UFA’s 25th anniversary. It is NOT a Nazi propaganda film, but it may well have been the straw that broke the German war budget – it looks wildly expensive, it’s funny, dirty, surrealistic, has some lovely homoromantic overtones (watch for the chemistry between Münchhausen and Cagliostro) and a joy to watch. I may be biased, because my mom taped this off TV when I was a kid and my little brother and I watched it over and over again, but I really do think it holds up. Not historically accurate in the slightest, but a fun romp.
Available on Youtube, and just look at this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QShKClQbl3I
This list was very helpful to me when I was creating my post :) I just linked your blog back there and did more of portraits VS Marie Antoinette in films. http://www.pastiche.today/blog/marie-antoinette-art-popculture Hope you liked!
In Rose of Versailles Marie Anotinette is voiced by Myuki Ueda. No, the animated version is not very historically correct when it comes to clothes, but the manga original(ie comic version the animation was adapted from, published in 1972) is closer with costume inaccuracies used mainly for dramatic effect or stylistic decisions reflecting what the audience of shoujo mangas(mangas for girls) wanted in the 1970s, and editors breathing down the author´s neck, as it was her first major work (the author, Riyoko Ikeda, actually did her research on MA´s life better than most movies on MA´s life I´ve seen to be honest, to the point she has received the Legion D´Honneur from the French government for this work.). Ikeda has recently started to publish a spin off of the series with paralel short stories which is VERY historically accurate where it comes to costumes (since she´s not under the whole pressure of pleasing a specific target audience, having a career of 40 years to back her up on doing whatever she pleases). It must be noted that her works on Catherine of Russia, Elizabeth I and Napoleon are far better where it comes to costumes.
FYI, Count Fersen in the Coppola film (which I adored) was none other than Movie “Christian Grey” of 50 Shades trilogy. Loved him as Fersen–I knew who he was instantly when 50 casting was announced because of his Fersen. He & Kirsten Dunst had beaucoup chemistry!!
I’m extremely late to the party so this may have been mentioned, but L’Autrichienne is a play on words, chienne meaning female dog or bitch, so the French were basically calling Marie an Austrian bitch. The Rose of Versailles is very good and surprisingly historically accurate, though it does take it liberties, it is one of my favorites among all of the Marie Antoinette media made and it’s probably because of it’s historical accuracy. I don’t care for much of the other movies because of their historical inaccuracies. Even with the liberties that The Rose of Versailles takes I still feel it’s more historically accurate then a lot of the other movies. There is also a extremely well done documentary done by PBS called (what else) Marie Antoinette. There is another one called Marie Antoinette at Versailles by Blue Peter which is shockingly the name of a kids show in England (how cheeky!). Both are excellent documentaries for history buffs. Though why everyone has Marie speak with a fluent French accent I’ll never know. She lived in Austria till she was fourteen so more than likely she spoke French with an accent, oh well…c’est la vie.
You forgot “That Night at Varennes” its actually a French movie so not sure on the translation. Its about the flight from Paris in 1791 which icludes funny enough a narration by Casanova.
But I don’t think MA actually makes an appearance in it!
Late-to-the-game comment! Thanks so much for putting this list together; I bet it could be added to for years, as M-A seems perennially popular onscreen. I have to say that I despise the Sherman & Peabody movie for raving about how historically inaccurate the George-Washington-and-the-cherry-tree story is, and then turning right around and claiming that 1) M-A made that cake statement, which has been debunked for ages and 2) declaring “Marie Antoinette could have avoided the whole revolution if she’d simply issued an edict to distribute bread amongst the poor.” Yeah, it would have been that easy! I don’t think she even had the power to issue edicts, and one round of bread wouldn’t have solved all the problems.