It is easy enough to recognize the visual beauty of [The Golden Coach] and especially of the colors, and to acknowledge the thematic links with other Renoir works—the nature-artifice conflict, the erection and dismantling of class barriers—but apart from these the film seems to offer little more than a somewhat obvious reworking of the question posed so bluntly by Camilla: "Where does the theater end and life begin?"
Renoir might in fact have done better to eliminate this line, which hardens the ambiguous and subtle structure of the film into rather too crude a formula…. [He] uses the ability of the cinema to make a series of artificially staged events look real to conduct an investigation (in this case relatively light-hearted) into concepts of reality and artifice, the relationship between life and art and life and theater. (pp. 40-1)
[By] taking us through two layers of artifice into something that finally appears to be "real," Renoir has merely strengthened our awareness of the artificiality and arbitrariness of what the screen will present to use. He has also confirmed our own status as audience, and we soon discover that we are watching another audience…. (p. 41)
Costumes, masks, disguises, roles, the division into actors and performers, all serve to make the central conflict between the natural and the artificial, the spontaneous and the theatrical, much less straightforward than it has appeared to many critics. One is forced to conclude from The Golden Coach … that it is impossible to make any rigid separation between them. (p. 42)
Graham Petrie, "Theater Film Life," in Film Comment (copyright © 1974 by The Film Society of Lincoln Center; all rights reserved), Vol. 10, No. 3, May-June, 1974, pp. 38-43.