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VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Lindsey Clouse
Let them eat cake... Welcome to MsMojo, and today we're looking at how Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France, has been depicted in movies, TV shows, and video games throughout the decades. Our countdown includes Kirsten Dunst, Sofia Coppola, Hilary Swank, and more!

How Marie Antoinette Has Been Portrayed in Media Through the Years


Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re looking at how Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France, has been depicted in movies, TV shows, and video games throughout the decades.

The Silent Era


Thanks to her beauty, the dramatic events of her life, and her death by execution in 1793 at just 37 years old, Marie Antoinette has been a subject of fascination in popular culture for centuries. During her reign, her reputation suffered among the common people due in part to her lavish spending and extramarital affairs, and an increasing public hostility toward the monarchy in general. Over the last hundred years, she’s been portrayed as everything from a frivolous airhead to a savvy ruler, a sympathetic mother to a malicious shrew.

Marie Antoinette’s first known film appearance was 1914’s “The Reign of Terror,” also known as “Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge,” in which she’s played by Léa Piron. The film, adapted from an Alexandre Dumas novel, depicts a failed attempt to rescue her from prison during the French Revolution. Though she’s not on screen that much, Piron plays her with stoicism, as though she has accepted her fate, while the revolutionaries trying to rescue her are played much more dramatically. In 1916, the queen shows up again in a brief part in “My Lady’s Slipper,” a silent film that, unfortunately, has been lost to time.

The first film to feature Marie Antoinette in a major role was the 1920 Danish horror-fantasy “Leaves from Satan’s Book,” which follows the title character as he influences major events in human history. Played by opera singer Tenna Kraft, the imprisoned queen is once again shown as strong and regal, a victim of the inflamed passions of the peasantry. In 1922, we got the first biopic of the queen, Germany’s “Marie Antoinette – Das Leben einer Königin.” Yet again, she’s depicted as dignified and pious, almost a martyr. She also makes brief appearances in three other films of the decade: 1923’s “Scaramouche,” 1924’s “Janice Meredith,” and 1929’s “Cagliostro.”

1930s


The film industry’s fascination with the French queen continued into the 30s, with four films featuring her as a character released in 1938 alone. Unlike the movies of the 20s, which focused on the revolution, many of the filmmakers of this era were more interested in personal drama and romantic affairs than politics. First came “Captain of the Guard,” an American musical that premiered in 1930 which might be the first ever appearance of Marie Antoinette in a film with synchronized sound. It was followed by 1934’s “Madame Du Barry,” which revolves around the mistress of Louis XV, who became rivals with Marie after her arrival in France. Over the years du Barry appeared in many films about the period, including occasionally as the main character. 1937 saw the release of the unusual short film “The King Without a Crown.” It begins just before the monarch’s execution and depicts her son, Louis XVII, being secreted away to America where he becomes a missionary to Indigenous people. In it, the queen is again portrayed sympathetically as a distraught and devoted mother.

In the 1938 American biopic “Marie Antoinette,” the queen is characterized as beautiful, passionate, and desired by multiple men, but not particularly politically involved. Star Norma Shearer was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. That year also gave us the Italian film “The Count of Brechard” and two French films, “Let's Go Up the Champs-Élysées” and “La Marseillaise.” The latter was directed by the legendary Jean Renoir and shows a Rashomon-style look at the French Revolution through multiple points of view. This portrayal of the queen, played by Lise Delamare, depicts her as more politically active than other films to date, showing her sitting in on strategy meetings and consulting with generals.

1940s and 50s


Marie Antoinette appears in at least ten films during these two decades, with a wide range of characterization, from arrogant and clever to cute and ditzy. A recurring theme in films about the queen, which we begin to see during this time, is an exorbitantly expensive necklace, which stems from a real life scandal, the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. The 1946 French film “The Queen’s Necklace” details a plot to steal the famous jewelry, with Marion Dorion playing Marie Antoinette as shrewd and distrustful of the traitorous plotters who surround her. 1949’s “Black Magic” is based on a Dumas novel and stars Orson Welles in another retelling of the story of Cagliostro the magician. It revolves around a plot to secretly replace Marie Antoinette with a Romani girl, with both roles played brilliantly by Nancy Guild. The queen is depicted as petty and even a bit cold, constantly wary of attempts to undermine her power, and the necklace is again a major plot point.

The 50s gave us another version of “Scaramouche,” one with a lot more sword fighting. It also featured the ever-regal Nina Foch as its canny queen. The 1954 Italian film “Il Cavaliere di Maison Rouge,” like 1914’s “Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge,” is an adaptation of Dumas’s novel of the same name. It features a group of loyalists attempting to spring the queen from prison, who is again played as stoic and unflappable. Romanian-French actress Lana Marconi portrayed Marie Antoinette twice during her brief film career, first in 1954’s “Royal Affairs in Versailles,” then in 1956’s “If Paris Were Told to Us.” In the very weird 1957 movie “The Story of Mankind,” the queen is depicted as silly, frivolous, and totally oblivious to the plight of the revolutionaries. It’s also one of the earliest appearances of her famous line, which is presented here as a historical reality.

1960s, 70s, and 80s


The fascination with Marie Antoinette on the big screen died down a bit during this time. She appears in only about seven films, but she also starts showing up on TV for the first time. This includes the 1963 miniseries “Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge” – yet another adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s book. As usual, there’s plenty of sword fighting, and the queen is portrayed as a devoted mother and a resilient prisoner, refusing to let the revolutionaries see her cry when they take her son. In 1979, the Japanese manga “The Rose of Versailles” was adapted into an animated TV series featuring Marie Antoinette as a major character. In her early years, she’s depicted as being primarily concerned with looking beautiful, wearing fancy clothes, and being head over heels for the Swedish Count Hans Axel Von Fersen. Later in life, she devotes herself to her children at the expense of her political duties.

In the 1970s PBS series “Meeting of Minds,” host Steve Allen interviews historical figures in a talk show-like format. Jayne Meadows appears as Marie Antoinette, and although she relates some interesting historical facts, she’s also shown to be highly concerned with fashion, hairdos, and the stateliness of her palaces. Historical comedies become more popular during this period, and Marie Antoinette shows up in several of them. In 1970’s “Start the Revolution Without Me,” Billie Whitelaw plays the queen alongside stars Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland. In this version of events, Marie is cunning and deceitful, cheating on her husband and plotting against him. In Mel Brooks’ “History of the World, Part I,” on the other hand, Louis is depicted as the lecher while the queen is mostly an innocent bystander.

1990s


Perhaps the most accurate depiction of Marie Antoinette’s final days is 1990’s “L'Autrichienne,” a French film that used the actual minutes from the queen’s trial as its source material. Historical film aficionados have praised its realism as well as Ute Lemper’s incredibly moving performance. In this complex portrayal, the queen isn’t a frivolous young woman obsessed with fancy things nor a stoic victim of the revolutionaries. Instead, she’s a complete human being who shows both courage and fear, as well as anger, sadness, hope, and hopelessness.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, the BBC in 1999 turned the intrigues at the Palace of Versailles into a sitcom called “Let Them Eat Cake.” Despite the title, Marie Antoinette is not the main character, but she does make several unforgettable appearances. Elizabeth Berrington plays her as an airhead with an absurd hairstyle who speaks English with an over-the-top Austrian accent. Honestly, the comedy works better than you expect it to. Marie also appears briefly in 1995’s “Jefferson in Paris,” a historical drama that, believe it or not, stars Nick Nolte as Thomas Jefferson. The queen is a minor character who’s shown to be a gracious and elegant host, though the monarchy itself is depicted as lavish and corrupt. The 90s also saw the first appearance of Marie Antoinette in video games, specifically “Castlevania: Bloodlines” and the point-and-click adventure game “Of Light and Darkness: The Prophecy.”

2000s and 2010s


This was not a good time for Marie Antoinette on the big screen. Charles Shyer’s “The Affair of the Necklace” was released in 2001, and critics hated it – especially Hilary Swank’s casting as Jeanne de Saint-Rémy de Valois. Joely Richardson plays the queen, who’s depicted as icy, arrogant, and vengeful, and the nobles at court gossip openly about her affairs. Next came Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” starring Kirsten Dunst, a highly polarizing film due partly to the director’s odd choice to use a modern soundtrack and a number of other anachronisms. Although some critics loved these bold decisions, others accused the film of prioritizing style over substance. The portrayal of the queen, on the other hand, isn’t particularly innovative – she’s young, naive, and obsessed with fine clothing, parties, and gambling. And, for the record, although the real Marie Antoinette obviously didn’t speak English in her daily life, she sounds weird with an American accent.

Things were slightly better for the French queen in the 2010s, which started with her portrayal by Diane Kruger in 2012’s “Farewell, My Queen.” The movie is told from the perspective of a servant who was infatuated with Marie Antoinette, and shows the queen having an affair with the duchess of Polignac. She’s depicted as being deeply in love with the duchess and risking everything – including her servant’s safety – to help her escape to freedom when the revolution begins. Sadly, this complex portrayal was followed up by a weird and pretty insulting appearance in 2014’s “Mr. Peabody & Sherman.” And of course, we can’t forget Detox’s performance as a similarly cake-obsessed queen in season two of “RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars.”

Recent Appearances


The 2020s seem to spell a resurgence of interest in Marie Antoinette, with a slew of new movies and shows already on offer. She shows up in season five of “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” and, despite spending most of the episode as a disembodied head, she’s surprisingly sympathetic. Her cameo in the “Animaniacs” revival, on the other hand, was less flattering. 2022 gave us “Chevalier” – not another Dumas adaptation, but the fictional story of a Black musical prodigy who becomes a favorite of the queen. In it, Marie Antoinette takes a liking to the young man but shows her true colors when he dares to speak against her. In 2023, we got another Madame du Barry story in “Jeanne du Barry,” starring, interestingly, Johnny Depp as Louis XV. Because Marie Antoinette and du Barry were real-life rivals, most movies depict one as sympathetic and the other as duplicitous or just plain evil. However, this film accurately shows Marie as being extremely young and out of her element when she first arrives in France. The rivalry evolves not because she truly wishes to make an enemy out of du Barry, but because she feels pressured by the vitriolic gossip coming from the many courtiers who disdain the king’s consort. The queen also makes a wordless cameo in the opening of Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon,” which depicts her on her way to her execution with her head held high.

The BBC took another stab at a series set in pre-revolutionary France with “Marie Antoinette,” which premiered in 2022. The show hits all the usual beats: Marie as a naive teenager, the awkward start to her marriage to Louis, the rivalry with du Barry, the alleged affair with Count Fersen. The program puts a modern, somewhat feminist spin on the character, which of course is a reflection of twenty-first century sensibilities, not the reality of eighteenth century French culture. It’s an interesting contrast to the earliest portrayals of the young queen and a fascinating illustration of how her image has evolved over the last century.

Which version of Marie Antoinette did you find the most captivating? Let us know in the comments.
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