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HistoryThe big dates

1953 Royal Affairs at Versailles

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If Versailles were told to me

« On nous dit que nos rois dépensaient sans compter,
Qu’ils prenaient notre argent sans prendre nos conseils.
Mais quand ils construisaient de semblables merveilles,
Ne nous mettaient-ils pas notre argent de côté ? »

"We are told that our kings spent in a mad lavish way
That they took all our money but not our advice
But when they built palaces so fabulously nice
Weren’t they putting our money aside for a rainy day?"

"If Versailles were told to me" are the opening words of Royal Affairs at Versailles, the motion picture Sacha Guitry shot at the palace in 1953.

The film, which traces Versailles' history from its origins to the French Revolution, is a product of the immediate postwar period's special context. France was struggling to get back on its feet, and Guitry sought to silence some of his critics, who condemned his ambiguous attitude towards the Germans during the occupation. The producers asked him to make the movie, which also met the need to unite the French around a sweeping historical epic.

Everything happened very quickly after Guitry accepted the proposal: the screenplay was written in the spring of 1953, the film shot between 6 July and 6 September 1953 and released in France the following year. The cast matched its political ambitions. Claudette Colbert played Madame de Montespan, favourite of the ageing Louis XIV embodied by Sacha Guitry. Jean Marais portrayed Louis XV alongside Micheline Presles as Madame de Pompadour. Less familiar faces made their screen debuts, including Gérard Philippe as d’Artagnan. In the role of a revolutionary, Edith Piaf sang Ca ira at the palace gates.

Historians criticised the movie for its inaccuracy, but it was well received by the public and ushered in a period of on-screen splendour for the Palace of Versailles. After Royal Affairs at Versailles, from Jean Delannoy's Marie-Antoinette starring Michèle Morgan in 1955 to Sofia Coppola's biopic over half a century later with Kirsten Dunst as the ill-fated queen, the halls and avenues have bustled with directors, actors and film crews.

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