July 14th starts with Sidonie, awaking with a jolt—she’s late for Queen Marie Antoinette. Sidonie serves as her reader, the young woman who carefully chooses novels, plays or fashion descriptions to read to her queen. Over the next several hours, Sidonie and the dozens of servants will hear rumors about the guillotine and the riots in Paris, learning that many of their names appear on the list of the condemned. True to the cliché, while Rome, or in this case Paris, burns, the aristocrats continue to fiddle—indulging their whims and living their hedonistic lives, some would say, indulging their petty inclinations as they’ve done for years. Meantime the servants devote a great deal of their time seeking knowledge about the calamity unfolding only a few miles away.
Anchored entirely in Sidonie’s perspective, Farewell, My Queen immerses the viewer in this tumultuous world, parceling out just enough information to keep everyone in suspense. The limited point of view creates a momentum for the three dangerous days with Sidonie sneaking around corners or racing through the cavernous hallways of Versailles. As Sidonie, Léa Seydoux maintains a wary, cautious presence with Diane Kruger as the epitome of royal excess, Noémie Lvovksky as a bold lady-in-waiting, and Virginie Ledoyen as the queen’s reported lover.
French director Benôit Jacquot doesn’t get on a soapbox, but he doesn’t shy from politics either, including sexist and class issues. Based on Chantal Thomas’ novel, Jacquot and Gilles Taurand adaptation keeps the historical backdrop vivid and specific without compromising personal crisis. Exquisite art direction enhances every scene from the luxurious costumes to the gorgeous rooms. In fact, cinematographer Romain Winding shot a lot of the film in Versailles, dramatizing the effects of candlelight and natural illumination. The bold ending surprises and perfectly completes the dialogue driven, superb Farewell, My Queen. In French with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.