Marie Antoinette: The Trial of a Queen (2018)

5

As previously mentioned, I’m spending some time in Paris, so expect a whole lot of French content from Kendra! I was excited to check out whether I’d have access to any French TV or movies that I can’t access back home, and was super annoyed to find that my AirBnB hadn’t subscribed to Canal+. But I was searching around and discovered Marie Antoinette: The Trial of a Queen, which I somehow missed back when it was released in 2018. It’s a docudrama available on Amazon for US viewers, and overall, I enjoyed it, especially having just visited the Musée Carnavalet which has some of the items belonging to the French queen and her family when they were imprisoned during the French Revolution.

This was a TV film and as I said, it’s a docudrama. Weirdly, there are two “episodes” listed on Amazon. The first is entirely the drama portion of the docudrama but with voice over narration; the second is the same film, but intercut with talking head historians, and so I assume there’s some content that’s cut from the first episode — I don’t know, when I figured out they were essentially the same thing, I stopped watching episode 2.

You can tell this film was made for French viewers, because it really starts with Marie-Antoinette moved to solo imprisonment in the Conciergerie, with a few flashbacks, and moves through her execution. I would think a lot of non-French viewers would be confused by the lack of context showing what led the queen and the country to this point. Luckily, I am pretty familiar! The doc came out at the same time there was an exhibit going on about the changing image of the queen, and I’m thinking the filmmakers were trying to help viewers understand that Marie-Antoinette wasn’t all cake and parties — something again I think most French people would know, but you definitely learn a lot about her character when you understand how she reacted to this whole ordeal.

Maud Wyler (Maison Close, Diary of a Chambermaid) plays Marie-Antoinette, and I think she’s a good choice. She conveys the queen’s quiet strength very well, something that’s hard to do given that was indeed how the queen responded to things — no big fiery emotional scenes here to work with, but you can see her intelligence and strength of character. She does look a little young for the role — Marie-Antoinette was only 37 when she died (Wyler was 36ish when this aired), but the revolution was very hard on her, and she died looking much older than she was (including her hair turning white). Wyler definitely looked drained, but not the 50s-ish kind of look I’d expect.

Sadly no costumer designer is listed on IMDB, but whoever it is did a great job — although what you see on screen is necessarily limited. Marie-Antoinette spends most of her time in the black widow’s weeds that she did in fact wear in real life:

Portrait of Marie Antoinette at the Temple by Anne Flore Millet, marquise de Bréhan after Alexander Kucharsky, c. 1793, Musée Carnavalet

Portrait of Marie Antoinette at the Temple by Anne Flore Millet, marquise de Bréhan after Alexander Kucharsky, c. 1793, Musée Carnavalet

Alexander Kucharsky, La reine Marie-Antoinette en habit de veuve à la prison de la Conciergerie, 1793, Palace of Versailles

Alexander Kucharsky, La reine Marie-Antoinette en habit de veuve à la prison de la Conciergerie, 1793, Palace of Versailles

The filmmakers interpret this as a relatively high-necked chemise gown:

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen 2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

As you can see, the actress sports grey hair — I’m not sure if Marie-Antoinette went white or gray — which is styled fashionably, but a bit too big compared to the portraits above.

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen
2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

You never actually see her having her hair styled, but you do see that she had several (revolutionary-appointed) attendants helping her, and it tracks with the images of her. The back could be a bit smoother here.

That being said, her caps and headwear were on point:

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen 2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

There’s a few flashbacks, one very dimly lit where the queen is teaching the dauphin:

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

And then a really beautifully executed scene in which she’s dressing for her execution in the white chemise that is laid out for her, her every move observed by guards, which is then interspersed with the famous moment in which she came to France and had to change into French clothes at the border. Filmically, it’s super moving – but my enjoyment was curtailed by the fact that the flashback costumes were questionable, and even more, the French ladies basically stand there and make Marie-Antoinette change herself, out of doors, and then only curtsy to her AFTER she’s in French clothes. I see the point they’re trying to make, but come on. She was an archduchess and future dauphine. She changed in a tent and was undressed and dressed by attendants.

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

I liked that they’re making the point about how young Marie-Antoinette was — only 15 — and trying for a “tete de mouton” hairstyle. I don’t like the machine-pleated trim, princess seams, and the fact that this lack of height to her hairstyle makes it about 10 years out-of-date.

Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, the later Queen Marie Antoinette of France by Joseph Ducreux, 1769, Palace of Versailles

This is the higher hair she should have had | Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, the later Queen Marie Antoinette of France by Joseph Ducreux, 1769, Palace of Versailles

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

Snooty French Attendants. The one on the left looks pretty good, but righty has clunky appliques on her stomacher and too much hair down.

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

On your left, a much more 16th-17th century damask motif. Note Marie-Antoinette apparently shows up from Austria in a pet-en-l’air, a shorter, informal jacket, which, no.

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

Undressed, she’s in stays and pocket hoops — yay! Although her stays are weirdly cut under her bust – another nope.

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

Blurry, but in her French dress.

The rest of the characters are either lower-class women or men, all of whom were well dressed:

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

Robespierre, in the stripes that we all associate him with.

Portrait of Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-1794), c. 1790, Musée Carnavalet

Portrait of Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-1794), c. 1790, Musée Carnavalet

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

I can’t remember if this is an actress or prostitute, but she has a good, floozy-ish revolutionary ensemble.

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

This revolutionary yells a LOT. Nice striped waistcoat!

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

The dauphin and his “caretaker.” These scenes are heartbreaking.

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

More revolutionary leaders.

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

Watchers at the trial.

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

More trial watchers.

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

The jury.

2018 Marie Antoinette The Trial of a Queen

The judges.

In the end, I definitely recommend the film — maybe watch the “second episode” if you’d like a bit more explication, and the first if you’re more here for the visuals?

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About the author

Kendra

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Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

5 Responses

  1. Aleko

    Has anyone here ever seen an above-the-knee 18th-century chemise, from any part of Europe? I haven’t. That’s just a weird choice to make.

    The casting of Robespierre is just weird too – the actor doesn’t look anything like him and is a good twenty years or so older (MR was 35 at he time). And while the coat is indeed quite a nice period stripe it doesn’t fit at all, and instead of giving him a waistcoat in a contrasting stripe they just made the coat lapels out of a different striped material. Like the wig, it just looks like a cheap hired am-dram costume.

    Reply
  2. Lily Lotus Rose

    Thanks for the heads up about this production. It definitely wasn’t on my radar. While in you’re in Paris, check out the Istitut du Monde Arabe, if you haven’t already. It is amazeballs!!!!! Also, you might (?) be able to find some Frock Flicks on TV5 Monde.

    Reply
  3. Destinee Amber

    If you are not an Amazon subscriber and would like to watch this series, I just found it on Tubi as well. I’m getting ready to watch it now.

    Reply
  4. Nico

    Hi Kendra, if you want your dose of lavish 18th century: you should go to Versailles visit the Dauphin’s appartments which have just reopened after years of restoration + visit as well the Hotel de la Marine on place de la concorde, which is absolutely (opened last year and not about ships!)

    Reply

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