The Versailles of Marie-Antoinette

Sofia Coppola’s film puts the Palace of Versailles, its gardens and the Petit Trianon in the spotlight

Château de Versailles, film

A beautiful historic landmark site, the palace of the Sun King and its French style gardens have been the setting for countless films: French films like Les Adieux à la Reine, Molière, Camille Claudel; international films like The Affair of the Necklace or Dangerous Liaisons by Stephen Frears, and a host of stars including John Malkovitch, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman and Keanu Reeves. Even Woody Allen in Midnight in Paris is ‘unfaithful’ to the French capital when he shoots some scenes there at the Bassin d’Apollon, The Hall of Mirrors, etc.

But recently, it is especially the iconoclast Marie-Antoinette by Sofia Coppola that has put Versailles in the limelight. The film traces the life of the archduchess of Austria (Kirsten Dunst), who becomes crown princess then queen of France through her marriage with the future Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). The film covers the period from 1770 to the revolutionary days of 1789 in vertiginous colours and with acknowledged anachronisms.

The entire story takes place at the Palace of Versailles, and most of the film was shot there, although other locations were used: chateaux in the Paris region, Parisian mansion houses and sometimes studios, notably for the Little apartment of the Queen and the Queen’s bedroom, not suited for film shoots.

Sofia Coppola was given authorization to film at Versailles, which is not given to everyone, and she was even able to film a ball scene for the wedding of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI in the Hall of Mirrors, even though it was closed for renovation work at the time the film was made, in 2005. The privilege of filming at Versailles – Monday and at night so as not to disturb the visits of tourists –, nevertheless amounted to €15,000 per day, i.e. €300,000 in total, for the young film maker. And her team had to comply with strict rules, which in comparison, would have made a film shoot in a jungle seem like child’s play. Because, although the Palace of Versailles and its 700 rooms, 2,000 windows, 1,250 chimneys, 67 staircases and 700 hectares of gardens form an exceptional ensemble, it is also a listed historical monument. Using the furniture there is therefore forbidden and, in some rooms, it is forbidden to open the shutters, in order to protect fabric and wall coverings from the light. Likewise, before each shoot, the technicians had to put the feet of their camera tripods into tennis balls and put a carpet on the parquet so as not to damage it.

This was what it cost to really admire the Palace of Versailles: the Royal Chapel, a masterpiece of sacred art; the Salon Hercules with its ceiling dedicated to the gods of Olympus; the Hall of Mirrors and its 357 mirrors: the Salon de la Paix, devoted to music and table games; the Cour de Marbre whose  clock regulated the lives of courtesans; the interior of the Little Theatre of the Queen, used only once previously in cinema, in 1961; the Queen’s Staircase and the Galleries of Pierre Nord and Midi.
Some views were taken from the windows of the King’s Bedroom, the Salon des Porcelaines and the Galerie des Batailles. Also in the film, the outside of the Petit Trianon, ‘Marie-Antoinette’s kingdom’, the Queen’s Hamlet and its houses with thatched roofs – where she liked to play at being a farmer –, the gardens and the Great Park.