"Farewell, My Queen" is a sumptuous period piece set in Versailles over four days in July 1789, where palace intrigue, scandal, class antagonisms and the unraveling of the French monarchy are keenly observed through the eyes of a beautiful and reserved young servant.
The film, directed by Benoit Jacquot from a novel by Chantal Thomas of the same name, also has humorous insights as it peels back the self-absorbed and petty behaviors of the royal court. The lavish costumes and sets vividly contrast the court's indulgent lifestyle with the deprivations of the help.
Sidonie Loborde (Lea Seydoux) owes her ringside seat at the circus to literary competence, palace smarts and undying devotion to her erratic queen, Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger).
She's the personal reader to the queen, who confides of her longings for Duchess Gabrielle Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), a free-spirited and emotionally distant lover, amid ambiguous sexual tensions of their own. It's an exalted position for someone of Sidonie's rank, for whom royalty is nearly divine.
Other times, Sidonie is just one of a crowd struggling to satisfy the queen's scatter-shot whims. Hen-pecking Mme. Campan (Noemie Lvovsky), Sidonie's boss, hand-signals directives to avoid the risk of Sidonie committing an unintentional offense.
The palace is rife with gossip and fear, as well as discreet sexual trysts, and Sidonie, in tight shots, walks its hallways as she straddles two worlds and scavenges information.
Sidonie treasures her time alone with Marie Antoinette, even after the queen's selfishness is laid bare when the storming of the Bastille signals the inexorable French Revolution. Her identity is so wrapped up in their relationship that she willingly accepts a dangerous and thankless assignment that will force her to leave France.
"Your love of the queen makes you blind to her caprice," King XVI's historian and a primary source of internal information warns her.
Sidonie departs Versailles -- where much of the picture was filmed -- and her queen for the last time, leaving her adrift. "Soon, I will be no one," she says.
But she does so resplendent in a lavish dress worn by the bourgeoise that allows her to feel one time as if she, too, were royalty.
She also, it appears, gets to keep her head. Marie Antoinette and her husband, Louis XVI, of course, were not so lucky.