The film takes place in 1783, six years before
the outbreak of the French Revolution (1789). It is an illustration of the
main currents in 18th century France: the luxury and decadence of the
Court of Versailles which led to the French Revolution; the importance of
sophisticated language, and the emergence of new ideas about science,
religion, education and the role of women.
"The film illustrates the power of language both to build and to tear down. It is
also about choices. Ponceludon's own moral dilemma -- to retain his
purity and reject the ways of the court or to embrace the place by the king's side that
his skill for witty repartee can gain him -- is personified by the two women
who want him: the sweet, independent Mathilde and the seductive,
manipulative Madame de Blayac."
© 1996 James Berardinelli
XVI, Marie Antoinette, Versailles
Louis XVI was the son of
Louis XV who was the great-grandson of Louis XIV. Louis XVI was born at
the court of Versailles in 1754 and died, guillotined, in 1793. He married
Marie Antoinette, an Austrian, who was also guillotined. They lived a
luxurious life in the spectacular castle of Versailles until the
revolutionaries forced them to move to Paris.
Rousseau was a Swiss philosopher,
Voltaire was a French philosopher. Their liberal ideas influenced the
politics, literature and sciences of the pre-revolutionary period.
Rousseau was interested in education and a life in nature. Voltaire was a
'free thinker' interested in politics, meaning that he fought against the authority
of the church. Both philosophers had to flee to Switzerland to escape
arrest for their 'subversive' ideas. Who, in the movie,
represents the liberal tendencies which are typical of the 18th century?
importance of scientific experimentation
Often scientific and religious ideas collide.
They did in the 18th century as they do today. The Church and the
political authorities were opposed to the new scientific experiments and
discoveries. They feared that rationalism might diminish their influence.
Indeed it did. Several 18th century French philosophers and scientists
contributed to the publication of the first Western encyclopedia.
During the French Revolution thousands of people were
guillotined, i.e. decapitated, including the
King, Louis XVI, the Queen, Marie Antoinette, numerous aristocrats and
later, under the 'Terror', rivaling political leaders. The guillotine was
an instrument of death imported from England by a Dr. Guillotin
because it was more 'humane' than death by hanging. At the end of the
movie some of the aristocrats have fled to England to escape death by the
guillotine. England had a less authoritarian form of government since the
king had to share power with a parliament.