France is a republic, but it still takes the story of its royals very seriously, especially if the story happens to be retold by an American. So the release last week of “Marie Antoinette,” Sofia Coppola’s $40 million film, has revived a centuries-old fascination with the ancien régime’s last queen. No matter that some critics savaged the Coppola film. Even the highbrow world of French culture recognizes the power and profitability of the woman who is still portrayed by some history teachers — incorrectly — as the heartless spendthrift who told the poor to eat cake if they had no bread. “The royalists still portray her as a martyr and a saint, the republicans as an evil foreigner who deserved beheading,” said Évelyne Lever, one of Marie Antoinette’s most authoritative biographers.
Le Figaro has issued a special 112-page glossy magazine on Marie Antoinette’s life as “princess, icon, rebel.” The women’s magazine Atmosphères has devoted most of its current issue to her “secrets.” The weekly Le Point put a portrait of the queen on a recent cover with the caption, “Misunderstood, decapitated, Marie Antoinette, the remorse of the French.”