On the new period drama “Marie Antoinette,” you won’t hear the title character say the famous line, “Let them eat cake.”
“No, that’s actually fake news,” said Emilia Schüle, 30, who stars as the titular character. “It was designed to harm the crown, in the process of the [French Revolution]. She never said that.”
Premiering Sunday, March 19 (10 p.m. on PBS), “Marie Antionette” has already been renewed for a second season. It was originally a Canal+ and BBC Two production overseas, created by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Deborah Davis (“The Favourite”). Set in the eighteenth century, the drama follows the famous last Queen of France (Schüle) beginning with her teenage years, as she’s sent from her home in Austria to France, in order to marry the awkward Louis XVI (Louis Cunningham), who won’t talk to her and doesn’t appear to bathe.
She’s a fish out of water in Versailles, struggling to understand their way of life and deal with court intrigue, while Louis XV (James Purefoy, “Rome”) rules.
“It changed my view on her entirely,” said Schüle, who is German and is based in Berlin.
“I do think that there is a very wrong image out there about her. She’s so much more complex than what people think. That’s something we’re really getting into on our show. The overall image of her is that she was this luxury addict who spent a lot of money, big hair, nice dresses. And yes, she was that. But why? If you look at the circumstances, she left her home country when she was 14, never saw her mom again. She was forced into a child marriage with someone who wouldn’t touch her for 7 years ,and her full function in life was to give birth to an heir, so she had to bear that humiliation for 7 years, even though it wasn’t her fault.”
Schüle said that she’s watched the 2006 Sophia Coppola film starring Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, but she wasn’t impressed by it.
“The film makes me quite angry, because it stays on the surface and doesn’t depict the complexity of her life, the struggle she was facing, and how hostile the environment was that she was living in. There were forces working against her, trying to get rid of her. I think most of the views of her today are shaped by this Coppala film, and it doesn’t do her justice.”
But, the show still features Marie Antoinette donning elaborate dresses and wigs.
“I got the part and was happy for 10 minutes,” said Schüle. “And then I remembered I would have to be in corsets for five months and this would be hell! Wearing these kinds of clothes for five months gives you a sense of how these clothes were designed to suppress women. You can’t breathe properly or move freely, you’re dependent on other people to dress or undress you. Of course you’re more mobile in trousers.
“The moment I understood why she partied so much, why she distracted herself with all of these things that she’s now condemned for – I really felt like I understood her. It was the first time I really let my own childishness go free on set, because normally I just want to seem very professional. But Marie Antoinette empowered me to have fun and be goofy.”