‘Like Love Island in Versailles’: Critics pan ‘historically inaccurate’ Marie Antoinette biopic series on BBC2 – which doesn’t live up to ‘hyped chatter’ over ‘vulgar’ sex scenes
- Eight-part series Marie Antoinette is set to air on BBC Two tonight at 9pm
- The Canal+, BBC and PBS production stars Emilia Schüle as the teenage queen
- Critics have been left underwhelmed by the ‘boring’ early episodes
- Read more: Marie Antoinette star Emilia Schule, 30, taking a year’s sabbatical to study film directing ahead of BBC drama’s release
Critics appear less than impressed by a new adaptation of Marie Antoinette set to air on BBC Two this evening.
The period drama, directed by Pete Travis and Geoffrey Enthoven and starring Emilia Schüle as the infamous teenage Queen of France, was panned as ‘like Love Island in Versailles’ that didn’t quite live up to expectations.
After the first series of the Canal+, PBS and BBC drama were released on iPlayer, critics were quick to express their disappointment at lacklustre sex scenes as the drama focused more on hierarchy and a battle for power than the art of seduction.
Others suggested that the glossy period drama, filmed at the Palaces of Versailles and Fontainebleau didn’t quite meet the anticipation that had been created by ‘hyped chatter’.
The eight-part series begins with the Austrian royal arriving at the frosty French court where she is somewhat outcast and documents the first decade of her life in France after she meets her husband, Louis XVI.
However, according to one critic, this period of time was the ‘least interesting part of her life’, leading to an outright ‘boring’ watch at times.
Critics also suggested that excitement for the series had been further fuelled by complaints from French media that the production was ‘insulting’ to the Queen’s memory.
In October, The Times reported that Le Figaro, a conservative outlet in France, had called for British and American filmmakers to be ‘banned’ from Versailles.
It panned the production for painting Marie Antoinette as a ‘militant feminist before her time’ and depicting ‘an avalanche of scenes that are often vulgar, totally out of context and sometimes plain obscene’.
Following the outrage from some sections of French media, viewers and critics in the UK had seemingly hoped for an outpouring of scandal – but according to reviews, it was not to be…
The Evening Standard
The Evening Standard’s Elizabeth Gregory noted the eight-part drama did not live up to expectations built by outrage leading up to its release
The Evening Standard’s Elizabeth Gregory laments that the highly anticipated series which had proved incendiary to some historians ‘never reaches its scandalous potential’.
In her review at a glance, she claims the first few episodes of the period drama are ‘literally boring’ in their plot, making the point that the lavish sets and costumes are not enough to hold it up.
However, she praises the young German actress’s depiction of the Austrian-born queen, who ‘fizzes with youthful charm’.
She adds Louis Cunningham, who plays the young Louis XVI, is equally captivating in his role as the pair’s chemistry provides ‘awkward fondness’. As the series goes on, the couple’s story becomes more compelling.
However, Gregory takes issue with the idea that Deborah Davis’s depiction of Marie Antoinette’s story is a ‘feminist retelling’ of the tale.
She argues that previous versions of the story, such as the 2006 production by Sofia Coppola, gave the character of the young queen more agency.
Gregory adds that, after Davis’s success with The Favourite, an Oscar-winning film starring Olivia Colman, viewers may be tuning in to enjoy the same style of witty, dark writing the movie became known for. However, according to Gregory, they will be disappointed.
She writes: ‘The perfectly pitched spiky black humour to the film writer’s room: there’s none of that here.’
Addressing the uproar in certain sections of French media over the ‘vulgar’ sex scenes in the series, Gregory claims: ‘None of these scenes are worth a hissy fit.’
Overall, she describes the production as ‘deeply old-fashioned’ with ‘a dogged scarcity of people of colour among the cast’.
The Telegraph described the BBC, Canal+ and PBS series as being ‘like Love Island in Versailles’
The Telegraph‘s Jasper Rees claims ‘you know what you’re getting’ with the story of Marie Antoinette, referring to how she married into the French court, was claimed to have professed ‘let them eat cake’ when told of how starving people could not afford bread, and ultimately was destined for the guillotine.
Discussing the content of series one of the drama, which focuses on an earlier time in Marie Antoinette’s life, Rees speaks of ‘wall-to-wall sex’ which is akin to ‘Love Island en Versailles’.
He describes scenes in which characters engage in sex games and ‘practise’ on each other, as well as the marital relationship between Antoinette and Louis in which they try to have a baby.
Describing Schule as ‘highly watchable as an unloved newbie in an utterly foreign court’, Rees praises her depiction of the Queen as she ‘exudes less and less innocence’.
However, aside from a few steamy scenes, he writes: ‘Most of the well-upholstered drama centres on who’s in, out, up, down on the palace’s squash ladder.’
He adds: ‘The Bourbons – pouting second son, wicked aunts, snarky sister-in-law – have nothing to do but jostle for position and await the guillotine.’
The Up Coming
Selina Sondermann for The Up Coming noted that the latest production of Marie Antoinette had likely been based on Coppola’s 2006 version of the same story – however she argues it lacks the original director’s ‘artistic vision’.
Referring to the actors’ depictions of the archchess and King Louis XVI, she describes them as ‘childlike’ as the production alludes to the fact they were just 14 and 15 years old at the time of their marriage.
However, Sondermann notes the characters’ ages are not referred to throughout the series.
She writes: ‘No cliché about the French is left untouched, be it their sense of hygiene or their table manners.’
While she notes there will be much debate about the historical accuracy of the production, Sondermann takes issue with what she describes as ‘stilted dialogue’ in the script.
Despite her disappointment with the series overall, Sondermann praises Schule’s performance as a ‘good show, considering some of the disconcerting material she is given to work with.’
She argues the main draw of the drama is the scheming between various royals and the King’s mistress, Madame du Barry – which is akin to ‘a fun costume edition for fans of EastEnders’.
- ALISON BOSHOFF: Marie Antoinette star Emilia Schule, 30, taking a year’s sabbatical to study film directing ahead of BBC drama’s release
- Lottie Moss transforms into Marie Antoinette as she sports a corset dress, sexy stockings and even themed underwear for Halloween
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