For the first hour, Farewell, My Queen ranks right up there as one of the best films I have ever seen. It’s the story of three tumultuous days of the French Revolution as it impacts on the rarified and hitherto unimagined world of Versailles: it takes the point of view of the myriad of servants and courtiers currying favor in a world that’s about to die, bloodily.
At first the news is sketchy and our heroine, Sidonie (Lea Seydoux) collects it where she can; rumours of the attack on the Bastille ebb and flow like a bush fire. The Courtiers, crammed into the surprising, crumbling nest of basement hovels below the palace, scour pamphlets for the latest news – and none of it is good. The servants are sullen, brazen and outright hostile, and they begin thieving at will. Will the the Royal Family flee? Won’t they? Marie Antoinette packs and unpacks, her mood swings volatile and unpredictable. In fact it’s when the movie moves away from the servants and focuses on Marie Antoinette (an excellent Diane Kruger) and her passion for her friend Yolande Martine Gabrielle de Polastron, the Duchess of Polignac, that the film loses its way a bit. But the final five minutes it comes roaring back with a request placed on Sidonie that’s so audacious it leaves you gasping. Brilliant.
The film’s locations are impressive too; it’s filmed in Versailles itself, with chateaux and castles across France all doing stand-in where needed. And it’s remarkable to look at as a result: gilded rooms and satin and silk filtered through golden light look sumptuous whilst simultaneously absurd. Yet it’s the scenes of subdued panic in the corridors below, as the Servants and Courtiers and Soldiers scramble for survival, that are most atmospheric. Again, brilliant.