Pop culture travels in France: Versailles with Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette

Since learning about France’s royal and revolutionary history, I’ve wanted to visit the Chateau de Versailles, the home of kings, to see if it lived up to its opulent reputation. My interest was further piqued after seeing Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, part of which was shot inside the palace.


I am probably in the minority of people who loved the bright colours, the wild clothes and completely out-of-place soundtrack, but it’s more of a fairy tale than history lesson. All the same, I found myself with an even deeper appreciation for Coppola’s film and accomplishment and a better understanding of the strange, complicated world of the Queen herself after visiting the grounds.

If you’ve been, you know, Versailles exceeds its reputation for excess. Approaching Versailles from the street, it’s relatively easy to leap back in time and imagine the daunting approach. Except for all of the tour buses, of course.

The Main Chateau

The Main Chateau is overwhelming. Every surface is adorned or covered in gold, and wandering through the many chambers and drawing rooms, you can see how the building inspired Marie Antoinette and its visual appeal. Simply put, at Versailles, there is no such thing as too much.

Moving through the Hall of Mirrors with a large number of tourists isn’t the best way to imagine life in the courts of Louis XV and Louis XVI that form the timeline of the movie. That said, it was almost as remarkable (to me, anyway), the film managed to secure the hall for a scene which, in all likelihood, played out in real life (in some form) more than 200 years ago.

One of the more absurd facets of life depicted in the movie, was the daily presence of scores of people in the Queen’s bedroom, all of whom had a role to play. Like young Marie Antoinette, arriving as the Dauphine-to-be, I marveled at the sumptuous fabrics and surprisingly small beds.

Le Petit Trianon

The first act of the film ends with Marie Antoinette receiving the keys to Le Petit Trianon as a gift from her husband.

Much like in the movie, I found the grounds of Le Petit Trianon a peaceful refuge from the overstimulation of the main Chateau. In the autumn, the grounds are quiet and the colours muted, as the leaves change colour and fall away. This part of the grounds was home to some of the happier times of Marie Antoinette’s life at Versailles. The Queen’s Theatre was built on the site of a former greenhouse, and was used by the Queen to stage plays for the amusement of the court. The theatre is deceptively small, with just a few rows of seats, suitable for an audience of the King and her friends.

During my autumn visit, the grounds weren’t quite as sunny and warm as the time depicted in the movie, the gardens ready for their winter rest, with the year’s blooms long gone.

My favourite spot on the grounds of Le Petit Trianon was the Temple of Love. Better known historically as the site of some rocking parties (and probably a few romantic interludes), the Temple is in the background while the Queen wanders the grounds in despair.

Le Hameau

Le Hameau, or the Queen’s Hamlet, was where Marie Antoinette went to get away from it all after getting away from it all at le Petit Trianon (which was her retreat from the Chateau). Having one’s own peasant village was very much in fashion during Marie Antoinette’s time. Le Hameau gave the Queen the relative freedom to live a simpler life, by running her own small farm. She was, in fact, known to little manual labour, but largely left the real farm work to the staff.

Marie Antoinette is by no means a complete account of Marie Antoinette’s life or meant as a travelogue for visiting the Chateau de Versailles. I found the film gave me a greater appreciation for the craziness of life during that time, where the weight of obligation was often met with sheer volume of beautiful things.

Have you visited Versailles or another sumptuous estate used in a movie? How did it stand up to your expectations?

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9 comments

  1. Gorgeous post, Krista !! Your shots are beauties. It’s fun to see them, along with the film stills. Le Petit Trianon place is haunting, eh? Even on Sunny days. I always weep a bit in the little Opera House. Did you catch the fountain shows? T. (I also dig the “Marie Antoinette” film. I’ve seen it many times.

    • I’m glad to hear it, I often feel like the only person who likes/loves that movie! I was there late in October, so the fountains weren’t running, but I won’t miss it the next time I’m in France, they’re too beautiful and I love fountains. It’s probably impolite to say so, but Versailles does have a lot of sadness.

    • You are not alone. Whenever I feel blue, I pop in the film. Great soundtrack, too! YES. Sadness, along with some joy! I think M.A. loved the Opera House, gardens and dairy. The film was based on Antonia Fraser’s “Marie Antoinette” book. I highly recommend it! T. (Again, beautiful post, Krista!)

    • Thanks so much! I’ve read that book too, and it provides a pretty fair account (I can’t speak to the accuracy). I also love “Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.” It’s about her clothes and the evolution of her style and how she contributed to bankrupting the country/inciting a revolution.

  2. Great post! I’m headed to Paris, Versailles and Fontainebleau this spring; I can’t wait! I too love Sophia Coppola’s film, in fact, I just watched it for the third time this past weekend. I love how you posted photographs from your visit along side screen shots from the film – nicely done. I’m curious, were you able to see everything in one day? We’re thinking of packing a picnic lunch in a backpack and renting bikes so we can ride to the end of the canal and picnic with a view of the chateau before we actually go inside. I just don’t know if they’ll let me inside with my backpack – any thoughts? I’m also a bit worried about the crowds as I’m slightly claustrophobic, but I think it’ll be worth it. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

    • Thanks! I did see everything in a day, but it was a long day! The Trianons are a healthy walk from the main chateau, I’d suggest looking at renting bikes or other transportation options. I honestly can’t recall what they did with larger bags, but their website is terrific and has lots more visitor information than some other French sites. Inside the Chateau and the Trianons, the rooms are immense and visitors are kept moving. To avoid the biggest crowds, I’d skip going on a weekend if it works in your schedule. As for other tips, get the audioguide for the Chateau, it has tons of great info, and I’d recommend skipping the Dauphin’s apartment and spend more time outside. The grounds are really extraordinary and you don’t want to miss a thing – have fun!

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