Fourteen-year-old Maria Antonia (Kirsten Dunst) is the beautiful, charming, and naive Archduchess of Austria, youngest of Empress Maria Theresa's (Marianne Faithfull) daughters. In 1770, the only one left unmarried among her sisters, she is sent by her mother to marry the Dauphin of France, the future Louis XVI of France (Jason Schwartzman), to seal an alliance between the two rival countries. Marie Antoinette travels to France, relinquishing all connections with her home country, including her pet Pug "Mops", and meets the King Louis XV of France (Rip Torn) and her future husband, Louis Auguste. The two arrive at the Palace of Versailles, which was built by the King's great-grandfather. They are married at once and are encouraged to produce an heir to the throne as soon as possible, but the next day it is reported to the king that "nothing happened" on the wedding night.
As time passes, Marie Antoinette finds life at the court of Versailles stifling. Her husband's courtiers disdain her as a foreigner and blame her for not producing an heir, although the fault really lies with her husband, for the marriage remains unconsummated for an inordinate amount of time. The French court is rife with gossip, and Marie Antoinette consistently ruffles feathers by defying its ritualistic formality. Marie Antoinette also refuses to meet or speak with Jeanne Bécu, Madame du Barry (Asia Argento), the mistress of Louis XV. Over the years, Maria Theresa continues to write to her daughter, giving advice on how to impress and seduce the Dauphin. Unfortunately, Marie's attempts to consummate with her husband fails and the marriage remains childless. Marie spends most of her time buying extravagant clothes and gambling. After a masquerade ball, Marie and Louis return to find that the King has smallpox; he orders du Barry to leave Versailles, and soon dies. Louis XVI is crowned King of France, with Marie as Queen.
Marie Antoinette's brother, Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor (Danny Huston) comes to visit, counseling her against her constant parties; advice that she finds easy to ignore. Joseph meets Louis XVI at the Royal Zoo and explains to him the "mechanics" of sexual intercourse in terms of "key-making", as one of the King's favorite hobbies is locksmithing. Thereafter, the King and Marie Antoinette have sex for the first time, and on December 18, 1778, Marie Antoinette gives birth to a daughter, Princess Marie Thérèse of France. As the infant royal matures, Marie Antoinette spends much of her time at the Petit Trianon, a small chateau in the park of Versailles. It is also at this time that she begins an affair with Axel Fersen (Jamie Dornan). As France's financial crisis worsens, food shortages and riots increase, her public image has completely deteriorated by this point: her luxurious lifestyle and seeming indifference to the struggles of the French people earned her the title "Madame Deficit."
As the queen matures, she focuses less on her social life and more on her family and makes what she considers to be significant financial adjustments. A year after her mother's death on November 29, 1780, Marie Antoinette gives birth to a son, Louis Joseph, Dauphin of France on October 22, 1781. She also gives birth to another son, Louis XVII of France on March 27, 1785, and another daughter, Princess Sophie of France on July 9, 1786, who dies on June 19, 1787, a month before her first birthday. As the French Revolution erupts with the storming of the Bastille, the royal family resolves to stay in France, unlike most of the court. Rioting Parisians force the family to leave Versailles for Paris. The film ends with the royal family's transfer to Tuileries Palace. The last image is a shot of Marie Antoinette's bedroom, destroyed by angry rioters.
The production was given unprecedented access to the Palace of Versailles. The movie takes the same sympathetic view of Marie Antoinette's life as was presented in Fraser's biography. Coppola has stated that the style for shooting was heavily influenced by the films of Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, and Miloš Forman, Coppola was also influenced by Lisztomania by Ken Russell.
While the action happens in Versailles (including the Queen's Petit Trianon and the Hameau de la Reine) and the Paris Opera (which was built after the death of the real Marie Antoinette), some scenes were also shot in Vaux-le-Vicomte, Château de Chantilly, Hôtel de Soubise and at the Belvedere in Vienna.
Milena Canonero and six assistant designers created the gowns, hats, suits and prop costume pieces. Ten rental houses were also employed, and the wardrobe unit had seven transport drivers. Shoes were made by Manolo Blahnik and Pompei, and hundreds of wigs and hair pieces were made by Rocchetti & Rocchetti. As revealed in the "Making of" documentary on the DVD, the look of Count von Fersen was influenced by 1980s rock star Adam Ant. Ladurée made the pastries for the film; its famous macarons are featured in a scene between Marie-Antoinette and Ambassador Mercy.
The film's soundtrack contains New Wave and post-punk bands New Order, Gang of Four, the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bow Wow Wow, Adam and the Ants, the Strokes, Dustin O'Halloran and the Radio Dept. Some scenes utilize period music by Jean-Philippe Rameau, Antonio Vivaldi and François Couperin. The soundtrack also includes songs by electronic musicians Squarepusher and Aphex Twin.
In several 2006 interviews, Coppola suggests that her highly stylized interpretation was intentionally very modern in order to humanize the historical figures involved. She admitted taking great artistic liberties with the source material, and said that the film does not focus simply on historical facts – "It is not a lesson of history. It is an interpretation documented, but carried by my desire for covering the subject differently." The film received both applause and some boos during early Cannes Film Festival press screenings, which one reviewer supposes was because some of the French journalists may have been offended that the film was not sufficiently critical of the régime's decadence.
However, film critic Roger Ebert clarified that, in actuality, only a couple of journalists had been booing during the press screening, and that the media had sensationalized the event. He states that booing is more common in Europe, and sometimes done when someone feels that a film is "politically incorrect."
The film received mixed reviews, ranging from resounding praise to discerning criticism (mainly aimed at historical inaccuracies and a contemporary soundtrack). People magazine's movie critic, Leah Rozen, wrote in her wrap-up of the 2006 Cannes Film Festival that, "The absence of political context ... upset most critics of Marie Antoinette, director Sofia Coppola's featherweight follow-up to Lost in Translation. Her historical biopic plays like a pop video, with Kirsten Dunst as the doomed 18th century French queen acting like a teenage flibbertigibbet intent on being the leader of the cool kids' club."
American film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four. He states that, "every criticism I have read of this film would alter its fragile magic and reduce its romantic and tragic poignancy to the level of an instructional film. This is Sofia Coppola's third film centering on the loneliness of being female and surrounded by a world that knows how to use you but not how to value and understand you." American film critic for MSN, Dave McCoy, describes it as being a great satire:
I laughed, as I had been doing for the past twenty minutes. I was laughing at the satire, at Coppola's brash approach and from the pure joy that a great film can trigger.
On the Rotten Tomatoes website, which compiles mostly North American reviews, the film has been given a rating average of 55% based on contributing critics giving it positive reviews; the site's consensus states "Lavish imagery and a daring soundtrack set this film apart from most period dramas; in fact, style completely takes precedence over plot and character development in Coppola's vision of the doomed queen."
The Metacritic site lists the film as having received "mainly positive" reviews with 65% of critics contributing such reviews.
The film's critical reception in France was generally positive. It has an aggregate score of 4/5 on the French cinema site AlloCiné, based on 21 reviews from professional critics. In the French trade journal, Le Film Francais, a third of the critics gave it their highest rating—"worthy of the Palme d'Or." Film critic Michel Ciment similarly rated it as worthy of the Palme d'Or.
Critics who gave the film positive reviews included Danielle Attali of Le Journal du Dimanche, who praised it as "a true wonder, with stunning colors, sensations, emotions, intelligence". François Vey of Le Parisien found it to be "funny, upbeat, impertinent" and "in a word, iconoclastic". Philippe Paumier of the French edition of Rolling Stone said that, "Transformed into a sanctuary for the senses, the microcosm of power becomes this moving drama of first emotions and Marie Antoinette, the most delicate of looks on adolescence". While Frodon, editor of Les Cahiers du cinéma, praised Coppola for her "'genius' at portraying adolescent alienation."
Among negative critical reviews, Jean-Luc Douin of Le Monde described Marie Antoinette as "kitsch and roc(k)oco" which "deliberately displays its anachronisms", and additionally as a "sensory film" that was "dreamt by a Miss California" and "orchestrated around the Du Barry or Madame de Polignac playground gossip". Alex Masson of Score thought the film had a script "which is often forgotten to the corruption of becoming a special issue of Vogue devoted to scenes of Versailles".
French critics were annoyed with the film's loose portrayal of real historical events and figures. Although it was filmed at Versailles, to capture the splendor of eighteenth-century royal life, some critics took issue with or did not understand why Coppola intermixed period music with contemporary music, for instance, using soundtracks by artists such as The Cure and The Strokes. Or why she intermixed modern products, such as Converse sneakers with formal period shoes. Although one historian explains that while they may be distracting, "they also convey the rebelliousness of a young woman, frustrated and bored, isolated, and yet always on display." An example of this combining of the actual period with modern times is a scene when Marie Antoinette and her friends enjoy a shopping spree and feast on luxurious sweets, champagne, clothing, shoes, and jewelry, to Bow Wow Wow's, "I Want Candy."
In the newspaper Le Figaro, historian Jean Tulard called the film "Versailles in Hollywood sauce", saying that it "dazzles" with a "deployment of wigs, fans and pastries, a symphony of colors" which "all [mask] some gross errors and voluntary anachronisms". In the magazine L'Internaute, Évelyne Lever, a historian and authority on Marie Antoinette, described the film as "far from historical reality". She wrote that the film's characterization of Marie Antoinette lacked historical authenticity and psychological development: "In reality she did not spend her time eating pastries and drinking champagne! [...] In the movie Marie Antoinette is the same from 15 to 33 years". She also expressed the view that "better historical films" including Barry Lyndon and The Madness of King George succeeded because their directors were "steeped in the culture of the time they evoked".
Coppola responded to the critics by explaining that she was interested in showing "the real human being behind the myths..."
My goal was to capture in the design the way in which I imagined the essence of Marie Antoinette's spirit...so the film's candy colors, its atmosphere and teenaged music all reflect and are meant to evoke how I saw that world from Marie Antoinette's perspective."
In the United States and Canada, the film opened with $5,361,050 in just 859 theaters, with $6,241 per theater. Nevertheless, the film quickly faded, grossing $15 million in Northern America, and has grossed around $61 million worldwide. The film made over $8 million in France, where the film is set, but fared less well in the United Kingdom, where it took only $1,727,858 at the box office, while the film's biggest international market was Japan, where it made a total of $15,735,433. The film took in a little more than $60 million, with a budget of $40 million.Won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design (Milena Canonero).
Nominated for three BAFTA awards, for Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design and Best Makeup & Hair.
At the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, Marie Antoinette was entry for Official Selection of Golden Palm and won the Cinema Prize of the French National Education System.
The film was nominated for Best Feature at the Gotham Awards.
Won Best Art Direction at the Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards.
Won Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design at both the Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards and the Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards.
The Region 1 DVD version of the movie was released on February 13, 2007. Special features on the disc included a "making of" featurette, two deleted scenes and a brief parody segment of MTV Cribs, featuring Jason Schwartzman as Louis XVI of France. The Region 2 DVD version, including the same special features, was released on February 26, 2007. No commentary was available for the DVD. In France, the double-disc edition included additional special features: Sofia Coppola's first short movie, Lick the Star, and a BBC documentary film on Marie Antoinette. A collector's edition boxset, entitled "Coffret Royal", was also released in France, and included the double-disc edition of the movie, Antonia Fraser's biography, photographs and a fan. The Japanese edition was released on July 19. This two-disc edition included the same extra features as the North American release, though it also included the American, European and Japanese theatrical trailers and Japanese TV spots. A limited-edition special Japanese boxed set contained the two disc DVD set, a jewellery box, a Swarovski high-heeled shoe brooch, a hand mirror, and a lace handkerchief.
Pathe Films released a Blu-ray version of the film on January 4, 2012 alongside Coppola's other film The Virgin Suicides exclusively in France. It ports over the previously released bonus features along with the previously released short film and documentary from the French DVD. While it is a region-free disc, the English-language track contains forced subtitles and the BBC documentary is not English-friendly.
A manufacture on demand Blu-ray was released through Sony's Choice Collection on October 6, 2016. This release, along with other Choice Collection releases, was heavily criticized for being a BD-R disc, which means it is a burnt disc instead of pressed, these discs are essentially a bootleg and a BD-R is more susceptible to damage and has a much shorter lifespan of about 10 years opposed to a pressed disc lasting for 100 years if properly cared for.