A fleeting glimpse of something scandalous. Gasps ringing through the halls. Tales of ghastly beheadings. A young servant woman, afraid to admit the true nature of her desires. A queen, nearing the end of her reign, caught in the grasp of unacceptable love.
In spellbinding fashion, Farewell, My Queen embellishes fact with fiction as it charts the first few days of the French Revolution from the perspective of Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux; Mission: Impossible 4) a devoted servant to the doomed Queen of France, Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger; Inglourious Basterds).
There are murmurs of a dreaded list being passed around the castle, demanding the beheadings of over 250 people, the Queen included. Men faint in the hallways upon seeing their names; women hang themselves in their rooms. Sidonie, meanwhile, continues to tender to her beloved Queen, observing the hysteria with frightened curiosity. The Queen is manic, understandably, but not for fear of death, rather for the loss of her forbidden love, Duchess Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen; Shall We Kiss?). When the Queen reveals her secret to Sidonie, the tension only increases as she too wants what she can’t have.
Based on Chantal Thomas’ 2002 novel of the same name, Farewell, My Queen is a visually sumptuous production under the sure hand of veteran French director Beniot Jacquot (A Single Girl), who compliments immersive storytelling with a cast full of painstakingly authentic performances. Particularly stunning is Lea Seydoux’s quietly profound turn as Sidonie; her horror is perceivable from a place deep within, enabled by her ability to convey feeling in the absence of words.
Kruger is similarly delightful as Marie Antoinette, balancing the well-documented frivolity of the Queen with the mounting horror of learning about her inevitable fate. Her scenes with Seydoux, together in the Queen’s private quarters, are standout; the tension that lingers between each line, each longing look, is palpable.
One must also acknowledge Bruno Coulais’ chillingly effective score, who intertwines subtle sounds with beautifully-arranged classical themes, further authenticating the stately drama. In fact, the overall soundscape is a marvel; the whispers of frightened officials, the chatter of servants suddenly on edge, and the mounting chaos behind the castle walls help. It all adds up to an experience rarely offered by contemporary cinema: the feeling of being there, inside that castle, running through the halls as madly as everyone else.