According to Wikipedia, the movie had thousands of costumes and lavish set designs. Adrian visited France and Austria in 1937 researching the period. He studied the paintings of Marie Antoinette, even using a microscope on them so that the embroidery and fabric could be identical. Fabrics were specially woven and embroidered with stitches sometimes too fine to be seen with the naked eye. The attention to detail was extreme, from the framework to hair. Some gowns became extremely heavy due to the embroidery, flounces and precious stones used. Norma Shearer's gowns alone had a combined weight of over 1,768 lb., the heaviest being the wedding dress.
Marie Antoinette's famously-high coiffure is shown adorned with a miniature diamond-studded bird cage complete with a canary that tweeted when she pulled a hidden string. This adornment was in fact worn by the Grand Duchess of Russia at a 1782 party that Marie Antoinette hosted at Trianon. The Duchess's bird not only chirped, but it's wings also flapped with the tug of a thin gold chain.
This was Irving Thalberg's last project while head of production at MGM. At the time of his death in 1936, the film was in the planning stages, but his widow, Norma Shearer, took special interest in the film and stuck with it to its completion in 1938.
William Randolph Hearst campaigned heavily for Marion Davies (Hearst's mistress) to star as Marie Antoinette. Davies didn't get the role and ended her contract at MGM and went to Warner Bros. along with Hearst.
This film features only two of Marie Antionette and Louis XVI's two children. They in fact had four children. Their first son, Louis-Joseph, died at the age of eight of TB. In 1785 Dauphin County, Pennsylvania was named for him as a thank you to France for helping America win its independence. Their last child, Sophie Helene Beatrice, died before her first birthday.
Gladys George (who plays du Barry) and the real Jeanne Bécu, comtesse du Barry, share the same death day. George died from a cerebral hemorrhage on Dec. 8, 1954, while the comtesse was a victim of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution and was guillotined on Dec. 8, 1793 - less than two months after Marie Antionette's own execution.
The film credits Louis XV as uttering the famous quip, "after me, the deluge" referring to the upcoming chaos of the French Revolution. However, it is Madame de Pompadour, his most celebrated mistress, who is historically credited to have made this comment to Louis XV. France played a disastrous role in the Seven Years' War, which among other loses, included losing Canadian territory to the much hated British. But it was after the humiliating Prussian defeat in the Battle of Rossbach that caused Pompadour to comfort the king by saying to him, "after us, the deluge" as France emerged from the war diminished and virtually bankrupt and greatly reduced the king's popularity.
The grandiose ballroom set appears to a recycling of the previous ballroom set used in the earlier films 'Conquest' and 'Maytime' (both 1937), with just the addition of a wall of mirrors and additional candelabrum.
The grand ceremonial march that accompanies Marie Antoinette's arrival and procession to meet Luois XV at the Louvre, Paris near the beginning of the film is actually an elaborate re-orchestration of a short and very simply scored entra'acte from the opera Castor et Pollux by Jean Philippe Rameau, composed 1737 and a great favorite in France, even after the French Revolution.
Irving Thalberg originally planned for Charles Laughton to play the role of Louis XVI with wife Elsa Lanchester as Princess de Lamballe. Norma Shearer's pregnancy was the first of many postponements, and when the film was finally made, the Laughtons were no longer associated with it.
From its initial inception up until right before the cameras started to roll, the film was designed to be shot in Technicolor. All of the sets and costumes were designed with color in mind. MGM went as far as to send the fox cape that Norma Shearer wears (to see Henry Stephenson on the night she becomes Queen) to New York to be specially dyed to match the blue of her eyes. Fearing that the addition of Technicolor would swell the already mammoth (for the time) $1.8-million budget, the production went before black-and-white cameras instead.
During principal photography, portions of the film were shot on location at the recently completed Hollywood Park Racetrack in Inglewood, CA. The racetrack's facade was decorated to stand-in for the exterior of the Palace at Versailles.