Unveiling Versailles

Biopic reveals unseen corners of teen queen's domain

It took about six months for the producers of “Marie-Antoinette” to negotiate their own version of a latter-day Versailles treaty. The terms were very favorable, too.

While past pics such as “Jefferson in Paris” (1995), “Ridicule” (1996) and Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” (1927) had the run of Versailles’ gardens and its famous Hall of Mirrors, “Marie-Antoinette” will now go down in history as the first movie production ever to film inside La Petite Theatre de la Reine. It was on this magnificently adorned stage that Marie-Antoinette would amuse herself by putting on her favorite operas and plays.

“It was incredibly important for me to film at Versailles. It’s like this separate character with this amazing history,” says Sofia Coppola, who directed and produced the pic, in addition to adapting Antonia Fraser’s sympathetic biography “Marie-Antoinette: The Journey.” “I didn’t have any kind of plan B — I was just determined that we should get to film there.”

With the grounds open to the public seven days a week, the production spaced its 20 days of shooting at Versailles over three months. The most important day of every week was Monday, when the interiors of the Versailles palace closed to the public, allowing the bulk of filming to take place.

“That was perhaps one of the hardest things”, says pic’s producer, Ross Katz. “What you like to be able to do as a film crew is camp out in a place and stay there. But what was always in the back of our minds was that the next day everything was going to be open again to the public. So every prop, every piece of equipment had to be removed at the end of each Monday so there was not a trace left of the crew having been there.”

Production designer K.K. Barrett says his biggest challenge was bringing alive the 17th-century court life without damaging the 400-year-old salons once frequented by the real Marie-Antoinette.

“We really couldn’t touch anything except for the floors,” Barrett says. “When we shot a dining scene in the Salon d’Hercule, we had to bring in our own draperies because they didn’t exist in those salons any longer. We had to put (them) on frames so that they didn’t touch the existing walls — that’s how fragile they were.”

Coppola’s project comes at a propitious time for Versailles’ president, Christine Albanel. In July, some of the palace’s lesser know treasures — such as the interiors of Le Petit Trianon and Le Hameau (the faux country village that Marie-Antoinette had built) — will open up for the first time.

“We are confident that the film ‘Marie-Antoinette’ will show these places in an interesting light,” says Albanel

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