SARAH VINE’S My TV Week: The sofa hit of the season!

MARIE ANTOINETTE

THURSDAY, BBC2 

Rating:

Much of my TV week was spent staring somewhat open-mouthed at the antics of an extravagant royal consort whose petulant behaviour, lavish demands and endless hysterics brought an ancient monarchy to its knees. I’m talking, of course, of Marie Antoinette, ill-fated queen of France – and the subject of the BBC’s latest lavish costume drama.

My daughter and I started watching this series – a collaboration between France’s Canal+ and our very own Auntie – in the dog days between Christmas and New Year, after all other avenues of entertainment had been exhausted. Turned out to be the sofa hit of the season.

It’s very much in the Bridgerton/The Great/The Serpent Queen mould, all exquisite young things wearing powdered wigs and shades of eau-de-nil, frolicking in gilded halls and manicured garden settings. In other words, high on style and low on historical accuracy (it caused a lot of pearl-clutching among French intellectuals when it aired there last October, which is another mark in its favour).

But the script is sharp, clever and funny, and the cast, led by the beautiful, Bambi-eyed German actress Emilia Schüle, is riotously over-the-top. James Purefoy (aka Purejoy to his friends) plays the licentious Louis XV (left), with Gaia Weiss as the dangerously seductive Madame du Barry, prostitute-turned-courtesan. Both seem to be having an unseemly amount of fun.

Marie Antoinette (pictured left) played as Emilia Schule and Louis / The Dauphin [later Louis XVI] played by Louis Cunningham

Young Louis Cunningham (previously of Bridgerton) is the dauphin, Louis-Auguste, the king’s lanky, shy, tongue-tied grandson, here portrayed as fashionably neurodivergent. He has a younger brother, a bitter, twisted and not very clever (remind you of anyone?) man married to a scheming shrew (I promise you, I am not making this up) who fakes her own pregnancy to get one over on ‘Toinette’.

Sarah Vine (pictured) said Marie Antoinette is very much in the Bridgerton, The Great and The Serpent Queen mould

One tends to think of Marie Antoinette (main picture, with the dauphin) in the narrow context of her demise – but in fact she was at court for over 20 years before getting the chop. Here, we first meet her as a lost and frightened 14-year-old, despatched alone to the Austrian/French border by her mother, Empress Maria Theresa, to marry the dauphin. She is immediately dismissed as uncouth by the garishly painted French courtiers, and in particular Louis XV’s two wicked daughters, who lord it over the child while displaying the table manners of wildebeest.

Purefoy is stupendous as the old king, one moment avuncular, the next predatory. When not dodging his geriatric advances, poor Toinette is tearing her wig out trying to get her husband to even acknowledge her, let alone do the necessary to help her ‘fulfil her duty’ of producing an heir. Desperate, she turns to Madame du Barry for lessons in seduction, little knowing that she is but an amuse-bouche for the main event.

Bit by bit, however, she starts to get the hang of things, and before long she’s fighting her corner with elan. The writer – Deborah Davis, who co-wrote the screenplay for the 2018 film The Favourite, starring Olivia Colman – weaves an extravagant tapestry of excess and intrigue, plotting Toinette’s path from ingénue to ruthless manipulator with glee. Splendid nonsense: the perfect antidote to those abstemious January nights.

Marie Antoinette is the perfect antidote to those abstemious January nights (Pictured: Louis XV played by James Purefoy) 

THE GROTESQUE KARDASHIANS UNVEILED 

THE KARDASHIANS: A BILLION DOLLAR DYNASTY

SUNDAY-MONDAY, CHANNEL 4 

Rating:

This two-part documentary opens with footage of a 16-year-old Kim Kardashian boasting about how famous she’s going to be. There is a self-assurance and ambition in her eyes that is both familiar and shocking.

The influence of the Kardashians is undeniable. They are the epitome of the something-for-nothing celebrity culture, a group of self-obsessed individuals who have monetised every aspect of their existence while contributing zero to society. Indeed, you might argue that they’ve had a deeply negative effect, adding to the debasement of modern culture via the legitimisation of porn (Kim’s ‘breakthrough’ sex tape), plastic surgery (it’s intriguing seeing the family at the start of their ‘journey’ versus now: almost unrecognisable) and the willingness to do anything for clicks.

At one point we see footage of a glamorous Kourtney in the birthing suite, smiling for the camera as her baby’s arm emerges from her vagina. Before that, Kim and her mother Kris Jenner meet with Hugh Hefner to discuss Kim’s Playboy spread, Kris haggling with the late porn mogul about how far her daughter is prepared to go. It’s grotesque. They are grotesque.

Still, there’s no denying their influence, which is why this documentary is so compelling. In old footage and interviews we learn how Kim (left, with sister Kylie) began as Paris Hilton’s assistant before graduating to Z-lister and reality TV star, then turbo-charged her ascent with that ‘leaked’ sex tape. In particular there are fascinating insights into matriarch Kris. Put it this way: piece of work doesn’t quite cover it.

THE KARDASHIANS: A BILLION DOLLAR DYNASTY is a two-part documentary opens with footage of a 16-year-old Kim Kardashian boasting about how famous she’s going to be (Pictured: Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner)

Champagne and Chaos 

A funny thing happened over the Christmas break: I fell back in love with terrestrial TV. Away for New Year, I only had Freeview – and I found the lack of choice comforting. No endless scrolling, just whatever’s on offer. I watched things I’d have missed, like The Mayfair Hotel Megabuild (Monday, BBC2). Following staff and guests at Claridge’s as it undergoes building work, the contrast of Champagne and cucumber sandwiches with the chaos of hard hats and rubble made a brilliant upstairs/downstairs saga. Who needs Netflix when you’ve got a burst pipe in a £5k-a-night suite? 

Over the Christmas break, Sarah says she fell in love with terrestrial TV and watched things like The Mayfair Hotel Megabuild (pictured)

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North West lip syncs to aunt Kourtney Kardashian’s impression of her mom Kim from 2019 episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians 

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