If you get a chance to see this film, do so. I thought I was going to see a light-hearted comedy/satire but it’s so much better than that. The film is based on a true story about a very wealthy woman, Florence Foster Jenkins who, believing she was a great coloratura soprano, gave a concert at Carnegie Hall (which she paid for) in 1944. Gossip columnist for the New York Post, Earl Wilson, observed drily, “She can sing anything but notes.”
Marguerite is set in Paris in 1921 and features Catherine Frot as wealthy Marguerite Dumont who performs for her friends with the Amadeus Music Club in a number of charity concerts. She spends a lot of time, energy and money on her music and practises for hours every day. Marguerite, oblivious to her lack of talent is under the delusion that she is a great coloratura soprano. The truth is, she is awful: tone-deaf and off-key. She’s not just off key, she screeches. She has a pet peacock who is heard in the background, an apt accompaniment to Margeurite’s screeching. (For those who don’t know what a peacock sounds like, it’s not dissimilar to a cat on heat!) The problem is that no-one will tell Marguerite that she can’t sing. Not her husband, not the members of the society (who depend on her financial support) not the members of the audience (who undoubedtely come for the spectacle and suppress their mirth), nor her staff. On the contrary, they actively encourage her and it is this that makes the film so sad.
I won’t give the plot away but suffice to say that Marguerite is taken advantage of by nearly everyone – from her husband (who is financially supported by Marguerite), to her new avant-garde friends who use her innocence to make a dada-esque mockery of all the things she stands for, and her faithful butler Madelbos who colludes in creating the myth of Marguerite as the great operatic singer, constructing photos of Marguerite in the guise of a great soprano in innumerable operas.
What I found so poignant and ultimately so sad was Marguerite’s passion and belief in music as the one thing in her life that brings her joy and the one thing that sustains her. It’s charming film that explores the undercurrents of desire and passion and the devastating effect of a complete absence of talent.