Night at the Museum

Starring Kirsten Dunst, Judy Davis and Jason Schwartzman. Directed by Sofia Coppola.
Running Time: 123 minutes.
Rated: Rated PG.
Sofia Coppola made an interesting remark about her film. While she based her screenplay on the historical biography by Antonia Fraser, she did not want to do a historical film as such. She wanted the audience to be able to spend a couple of hours in the company of Marie Antoinette. Within those terms, she has been successful.

The contemporary score during the opening credits indicates that we are not locked into the 18th century. More songs (Fools Rush In, I Want Candy) accompany key scenes and the score veers from rock to classic to opera excerpts. In this context the eclectic accents do not jar as they do in strictly historical epics. The film offers an interpretation of Marie Antoinette.

It must be said that the film is sumptuous to look at, no expense spared for costumes, wigs and décor, for locations (including Versailles itself) and for myriad details (in which the food selection stands out).

There is not a peasant in sight until the final five minutes of the film. We are interned, so to speak, as Marie Antoinette was in Versailles, straitjacketed by luxury. (At this display of wanton extravagance, many in the audience may be internally shouting, 'Come the Revolution'.) She was in her early teens when she was bargained away to cement Austrian-French relationships. She was a spoilt girl who knew nothing else. Frivolous and spendthrift, she was also the victim of nasty gossip about 'the Austrian' and mocked because it took Louis Auguste seven years to consummate the marriage. She was hemmed in by protocol at every moment, waking, dressing, eating, walking, speaking.

Kirsten Dunst really is Marie Antoinette. Sofia Coppola cast her cousin, Jason Schwartzman (better known for comedies like Rushmore, Shopgirl, I Heart Huckabees) as the young and cloddish key maker Louis XVI. The supporting cast perform well - and come from everywhere. Who would have thought of Rip Torn as Louis XV or Asia Argento as Madame du Barry? Judy Davis is all protocol and starch as the queen's decorum mentor. Steven Coogan is her confidante, the French Ambassador. Danny Huston is the Emperor of Austria and Marianne Faithful the dowager Empress.

Obviously not to purist historians' taste - but yet it might be.

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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