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Marie Antoinette (1938)

Passed | | Biography, Drama, History | 26 August 1938 (USA)
The tragic life of Marie Antoinette, who became queen of France in her late teens.


(as W.S. Van Dyke II), (uncredited)


(screen play), (screen play) | 2 more credits »

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From $1.99 (SD) on Amazon Video

Nominated for 4 Oscars. Another 1 win & 1 nomination. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Cora Witherspoon ...
Comte de Provence (as Albert Van Dekker)


The life of Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) from betrothal and marriage in 1770 to her beheading. At first, she's a Hapsburg teenager isolated in France, living a virgin's life in the household of the Dauphin, a shy solitary man who would like to be a locksmith. Marie discovers high society, with the help of Orleans and her brothers-in-law. Her foolishness is at its height when she meets a Swedish count, Axel de Fersen. He helps her see her fecklessness. In the second half of the film, she avoids an annulment, becomes queen, bears children, and is a responsible ruler. The affair of the necklace and the general poverty of France feed revolution. She faces death with dignity. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Passed | See all certifications »




Release Date:

26 August 1938 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

María Antonieta  »

Box Office


$2,926,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (original road show print including entry, intermission and exit music)

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)



Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The Duke of Orleans flatters Marie Antoinette by telling her when in motion she is grace itself and when in repose a statue of beauty. Horace Walpole, the English poet, was the creator of such a praise. He used these words to describe the queen's graceful deposition around the time of her ascension to the throne. See more »


The stately minuet heard at the lavish ball sequence hosted by the Duc D'Orleans at Versailles, is from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, which was composed in 1787. A few moments after the Minuet ends, King Louis XV arrives. He died in 1774 and therefore, this music could not possibly have been played at such an event as it had yet to be written. See more »


King Louis XVI: I don't want to be king. People expect so much of a king. Nothing comes easily to me.
See more »


Referenced in Hollywood Mouth 3 (2017) See more »


La Marseillaise
(1792) (uncredited)
Written by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle
Played over the opening credits
Reprised as background music at the start of the French Revolution
Played again at the end
See more »

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User Reviews

Top Ten Reasons why "Marie Antoinette" is quite possibly the best movie ever made in Hollywood
23 March 2002 | by (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) – See all my reviews

10. The script

Uncredited as a scriptwriter is novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. His love scenes are extremely elaborate and exquisitely structured. They also introduce innovations that have since become clichés and the hallmark of 'women pictures' everywhere.

9. The actors

Barrymore is unforgettable as the regally cranky Louis XV. Morley gives one of his best interpretations. Schildkraut plays the best two-faced villain of his entire body of work. As for Power... remember the anecdote about the reporter asking romance-writer Barbara Cartland (Lady Di's stepmother) how she could possibly have written so many romance novels before she was even married and while she was still a virgin? Her answer was: 'Oh! We didn't have sex in those days. We had Tyrone Power.'

8. The director

Van Dyke was an expert at handling large crowds and acts of God. His directing style was a compromise between time-efficiency and giving the stars leeway as long as they respected the general style of the piece. This 'honour system' seems to have encouraged the actors to do their homework and present a credible, coherent performance every time. He also got an assist here from uncredited French genius Julien Duvivier.

7. Artistic direction

What can you say about a period film that tackled the challenge of recreating Versailles in the XVIIIth century on the MGM back lot? The production values are staggering. The Gallery of Mirrors is actually longer, higher and wider than the original. The costumes tread a fine line between historical accuracy (covered shoulders and revealed cleavage) and the requirements of the movie code (exposed shoulders were tolerated but bosoms had to be covered) but still manage to convey the era and the fairy-tale quality of Marie's court. The costumes were also specially constructed to shine, glitter and shimmer on black and white film.

6. Historical accuracy

The film's script is based (in part) on Stefan Zweig's groundbreaking biography of the Queen, "Marie Antoinette, Portrait of an Ordinary Woman", which tried to create the first accurate, adult, factual but Freudian-inspired narrative of the Queen's life by using documents and correspondence that had long been overlooked or suppressed. The book was the first to reveal Louis XVI's mechanical sexual problems, which prevented his consummating the marriage during its first seven years (until a slight surgical intervention) and explained in turn the Queen's extravagant spendthrift personality, in Freudian terms, as extreme sexual frustration. This story actually makes it to the screen in a large degree. Compare this to recent biopics like "A Beautiful Mind", whose scriptwriters conveniently 'forget' essential but non-mainstream plot elements like the fact that John Nash's paranoia may have been caused or amplified by the McCarthy era persecution of homosexuals. Some historical events have been telescoped into one another in order to accommodate the general American public's limited understanding of French history and the Orléans character was used to maintain tension by representing the turncoat part of the nobility which exploited MA for their own various agendas.

5. The music

Herbert Stothart may not be a household word but he did win an Oscar for his original score to "The Wizard of Oz", based, of course in part on Harold Arlen's melodies. Besides giving Miss Gulch/the Wicked Witch her immortal theme, he is also one half of the composing team that produced the operetta "Rose Marie". Stothart shines in two respects: the approximate recreation of XVIIIth century dance music in the court scenes, emphasizing the bored grandeur of the proceedings, and the psychological music that accompanies everything from exciting chase scenes to the love scenes between Shearer and Tyrone. Note especially the use of the harpsichord in a rupture scene between Orléans and MA and the use of the viola d'amour in the garden love scene.

4. The cinematography

MA is in 'glorious black and white', but especially in the escape to Varennes sequence which has the most credible - and suspenseful - 'day for night' sequence ever filmed. The marriage scene may have inspired Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. Also notable are the matte paintings, the overwhelming use of cranes to move in on particular characters in a crowd scene and the chiaroscuro of the last meeting with Fersen.

3. Detail and scope

Every scene has something special added to it in characterization, movement, rhythm, lighting, art direction, choreography (and not just in the dance scenes). The costumes could have starred in a picture by themselves.

2. The lost art of story-telling

This film was planned with intelligence and skill and was built around the principle stated by Selznick when filming GWTW: 'The secret of adapting a book to the screen is to give the impression that you are adapting a book to the screen.' Which means that many literary devices are used to give the story many interesting arcs and recurring themes. The story is well balanced in terms of spectacular action, recreation of important historical events (giving the impression of the passage of time) and intimate scenes. It is truly 'the intimate epic' that Mankiewicz's 'Cleopatra' was supposed to be. Need I add I am really dreading the Sofia Coppola version...

1. Norma Shearer

Norma Shearer is an unjustly forgotten star of the first magnitude. MA is permanent testament to her uncanny abilities. In this film she portrays the main character from the age of sixteen to her death as a prematurely aged and debilitated woman of 38, all with perfect verisimilitude, thanks to her magnificent vocal instrument and stage presence. As a fairy-queen, she makes Cate Blanchett as Galadriel (in LOTR) look like Carol Burnett's charwoman. Her virtuosity as the fated widowed Queen is all the more poignant when one realizes that at the time she was Thalberg's widow in her last husband-approved venture and that the Hollywood suits were rapidly closing in on her.

32 of 35 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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