The rabble and the homeless must be cleared from the gates each morning. Dead rats bob in the pond where a faux Venetian gondolier glides. The bread is old, and the news from Paris is not good. There is a list of names - lords and ladies, counts and countesses - and all are to be beheaded.
Farewell, My Queen, Benoît Jacquot's beautifully observed historical piece, begins on the first Bastille Day, July 14, 1789, and proceeds over the next three days as France is rocked by revolt. But at Versailles, where Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) is camped in cloistered luxury, things at first appear as they always have. The queen orders dresses and tapestries to be made, and she calls for her reader, Sidonie (Léa Seydoux), to bring books, and read them aloud.
It is through Sidonie's eyes that Farewell, My Queen unfurls. A young woman who lives in the servants' quarters and does her lady's bidding with pride, she is witness to the monarch's most private moments. Sidonie has friends in the court - an elderly archivist, a seamstress - but she remains steadfastly loyal to the queen, guarding her relationship and the secrets she has learned.
And then, as things start to unravel, and panic sets in, Marie Antoinette confides that she is desperately in love with another woman, the duchess Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). The queen's longing and heartache are palpable. Sidonie absorbs the news like a therapist noting her patient's distress.