The melodrama never stops at the Palace of Versailles, even with revolution fomenting down the road in Paris. In Benoît Jacquot's drama, the three days depicted in July 1789 tip the balance from high-court boredom and needlepoint discussion to fear and flight. We see these events through the eyes of a privileged servant named Sidonie (Léa Seydoux), who is Queen Marie Antoinette's reader and occasional confidante. Sidonie, who lives in a less-fancy corner of the palace, nonetheless collects gossip and news from its many quarters.
Much of the film is presented as a gorgeous you-are-there, with only minimal plotting. (After all, we know what is about to happen; the film, though, has no historical preamble, so familiarity with the various players at Versailles is helpful). Three plotlines emerge and eventually intersect: the growing awareness of the coddled Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) that serious trouble is imminent; her agency in protecting a dear friend, the Duchess Gabrielle de Polignac; and Sidonie's devotion to the Queen, born perhaps of her naivety and her belief that she is among the queen's favorites.
It's all very lovely to look at, with sumptuous sets and costumes, and the two lead actresses are fine. Yet, despite the impending nightmare, there's something rather disengaged about this drama, a parlor game that merely hints at but doesn't deliver the frisson of real emotion.