Sofia Coppola refused to read the famous biography of Marie-Antoinette written by Stefan Zweig, which she judged too strict. She turned instead to the book by Antonia Fraser, which makes the queen a more human character, a young girl with no connection to reality who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
According to some history accounts, when Marie Antoinette met the rioters on the balcony of the palace, she had her eldest daughter with her. This was supposedly in order to augment a sense of sympathy for the doomed queen.
This movie was going to be produced before Lost in Translation (2003), but while Sofia Coppola was writing the screenplay struggling with historical truth and an imposing gallery of characters, she started creating another story in order to distract herself from the difficult enterprise. This parallel project - a small Japanese story - became "Lost in Translation", whose planetary success revamped the Marie-Antoinette production.
Even though the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles was in restoration - until spring 2007 - Sofia Coppola was allowed to film there a ball scene for the wedding of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI.
A few quotes from the film are directly taken from Marie Antoinette's actual life and from the biography by Lady Antonia Fraser that the film is loosely based upon. Louis XV's comment about Marie Antoinette's bosom upon her arrival in France, Marie Antoinette's comment on having enough diamonds when presented with the opportunity of receiving some as a gift from Madame du Barry, Marie's comment to Madame du Barry about there being a lot of people at Versailles on the day of their infamous first exchange of words, and Marie's comment to her husband, Louis XVI, during a gambling party, explaining that Louis told her she could throw the party but never specified for how long are all actual exchanges of words and conversations from different events in the queen's life.
The part of Louis XV was first offered to Alain Delon. Allegedly, he met Sofia Coppola for dinner and brought the American director a huge bouquet of flowers and explained he did not think this was the type of role his fans would appreciate him in. Privately it has been speculated the French icon did not have confidence in the young American director to do justice to a film on this period of French history.
Marianne Faithfull's mother, Eva von Sacher-Masoch, Baroness Erisso, was originally from Vienna, Austria, with aristocratic roots in the Habsburg Dynasty. In the movie, Marianne Faithfull plays Empress Maria Theresa, a member of the Habsburg Dynasty and ruler of the Austrian lands.
Sofia Coppola discovered in 2000 the Marie-Antoinette biography by French historian Evelyne Lever, acquired the book rights and asked its author to accompany her on a first tour of Versailles in 2001. Coppola later turned to the queen biography written by Antonia Fraser, more popular in the United States. Lever was later asked to work as an historical consultant for the movie, writing a dossier on the queen in order to avoid mistakes and approximations.
Joseph II was an odd choice to teach Louis XVI about reproduction. All of Joseph's known children died in childhood, and he apparently never reproduced for the last 27 years of his life. He could, however, afford to rest on the laurels of his brother and heir-presumptive Leopold II, who had many children including Franz II (powerful sometime-rival-sometime-ally of Napoléon Bonaparte). Strangely enough, such a lesson really happened. Joseph visited Marie Antoinette in 1777 and, in a letter to his brother, boasted about his lesson to Louis. In 1778 Marie's daughter Marie Thérèse Charlotte was born.
In addition to Louis XV and XVI, two other French monarchs and two more theoretical monarchs are depicted in the film. Louis' and Marie's younger son was regarded by loyalists as being Louis XVII from 1793 (XVI's execution) and until his death from abuse and neglect in 1795, even though he was never really a king. The Comte De Provence was then regarded as King-in-exile Louis XVIII, and truly became king in 1814 to reign until 1824, with a brief interruption in 1815 from Napoléon Bonaparte's bloody comeback tour. Louis' brother the Comte D'Artois then succeeded as Charles X and reigned until his forced abdication in 1830; his son the Duke D'Angouleme (shown in the movie as an infant, when Marie is saddened by her childlessness) was called Louis XIX by some loyalists but never made any attempt to take power, so is rarely mentioned in lists of French kings.
Count Fersen and Marie Antoinettes love affair went on for the rest of their lives. Whether or not it was consummated like it was in the film is up for speculation. But Louis XVI was very fond of Fersen and most likely knew of the affair but did nothing to stop it. Fersen helped organize a failed escape plan for the royal family after they were taken to Paris. He mourned the queen after she was beheaded.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
There is a scene toward the end of the movie which shows many princes and princesses of the blood saying farewell to the Queen before fleeing the country, including her two favorite companions, the Duchesse de Polignac and the Princesse de Lamballe. The real Duchesse de Polignac did take refuge in Switzerland. Princesse de Lamballe did initially leave the royal family for safety in England, but returned later at the request of Marie Antoinette after she and her family were caught trying to escape. She remained with the royal family until her own arrest; after refusing to sign an oath renouncing the monarchy, she was mutilated and beheaded, and her head was mounted on a pike and paraded past the prison window of the doomed Queen.
Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI had four children two princesses and two princes. The family painting that is removed and brought back with the missing baby is princess Sophie their fourth child who passed away from fever as an infant. Louis Charles the second dauphin of France is also missing. In the original portrait he is sitting on Marie Antoinettes lap and it is the first dauphin Louis Joseph that is pointing to the empty crib. Louis Joseph passed away as a child from tuberculosis of the spine. Louis Charles is the dauphin that is shown in the film as he was the one still alive when the royal family was removed from the palace.