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The Affair of the Necklace
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there is brief female toplessness in what looks like a drug-sodden aristocratic orgy. The (unhappily married) heroine tries to have sex with her boyfriend; later her husband does the same with an actress. Violence includes shooting, beating, and kicking, soldiers executing a man, and a public whipping, branding, and execution by guillotine, though the filmmakers refrain from plunging us into all the ugly details; it's mostly quick MTV-style edits. One character is a corrupt, sexually active Catholic cardinal. Kids making the real-life Jeanne de la Motte-Valois their school-report heroine should know that historians (and even earlier movie adaptations) regard her negatively -- a dodgy con-artist, rather than the romanticized avenger admired here.
What's the story?
THE AFFAIR OF THE NECKLACE dramatizes an 18th-century scandal and courtroom trial that sullied the king and queen of France with bad PR on the eve of the French Revolution. Jeanne de la Motte-Valois (Hilary Swank) is introduced as a little girl of noble birth, orphaned when her father is killed by French royal Imperial Stormtroopers for dubious reasons. Still on the fringes of the aristocracy via her loveless marriage to a philanderer, Jeanne seeks the return of her estate and prestige by appealing to Marie Antoinette (Joely Richardson). But when the queen just ignores her, Jeanne hooks up with another palace wastrel (Simon Baker), who becomes her lover and co-conspirator. They hatch a scheme to dupe the politically ambitious (and lusty) Catholic clergyman, Cardinal de Rohan (Jonathan Pryce), into falsely thinking Marie Antoinette wants his help in procuring an enormously costly diamond necklace, at a time when citizens are already furious about the monarchy's wasteful spending.
Is it any good?
Centered more on intrigue and tabloid-grade duplicity than politics, The Affair of the Necklace has a slightly soap-operatic script. This makes it a case of Jeanne's righteous revenge snowballing into a scandal that doomed the French aristocracy -- which is probably overstating the truth a bit. Many books have dissected why the French Revolution happened, but the message here is that Marie Antoinette's apathy toward Jeanne (and, by extension, the rest of the citizenry) while the royals enjoyed fun, games, and wealth at Versailles, brought the wrath of the masses and a sentence of the guillotine.
Movies oversimplifying mighty historical events are nothing new, and the portrayal of idle decadence and spiritual charlatans (the Cardinal for starters) atop the 18th-century European social ladder is done well here.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the real-life circumstances of the French Revolution, and how the incidents of this film figure into it. You could research the fall of the monarchy, and perhaps fact-check whether this movie exaggerated the importance of the "necklace affair" or not, and maybe look into other screen portrayals or biographies of Marie Antoinette and her downfall. Did she get a royal raw deal, or was she asking for it? Are there any similar celebrities (or first ladies) around today?
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