By Miguel E. Rodriguez
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 94% Certified Fresh
PLOT: In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne (Colman) enjoys the attentions of her close friend, Lady Sarah (Weisz), but when Sarah’s cousin (Stone) arrives at court, a subtle power struggle ensues.
This movie is a TRIP. Imagine that someone crossed the sex-driven antics in Dangerous Liaisons with the cat-fighting in All About Eve, directed by someone who idolizes Stanley Kubrick and David Fincher. It’s that good.
Where to begin?
I loved the story. It’s a basic power struggle/love triangle, but told with immense wit and originality. Queen Anne indulges in sexual dalliances with her closest confidante, Lady Sarah. Then Abigail appears, a distant cousin to Lady Sarah; she’s hired as a scullery maid and slowly works her way into Lady Sarah’s confidence as her handmaiden. When the Queen starts to show a preference for Abigail over Lady Sarah, oh, the fur doth fly.
Rarely has it been so much fun to see such bad people behaving so badly. At first, I was rooting for Abigail, who is only doing what seems necessary to survive, but then it becomes obvious that there ARE no good guys in this movie. Abigail proves herself just as capable of social atrocities as Lady Sarah or Queen Anne herself. Normally, I HATE movies with no clear heroes, but the screenplay and camerawork kept me constantly engaged and entertained. I think I had a smile on my face continuously after the 30-minute mark.
And let’s talk about that camerawork. I’ve never seen one of this director Yorgos Lanthimos’s films before, but if they share the same visual inventiveness as THIS movie, I am going to seek them out. The list of directors working today with visual styles unique to them is relatively short, so to find this fresh take on moving pictures was a delightful surprise. There are a couple of places where extremely-wide-angle “fish-eye” lenses are used, distorting the picture on the edges so it looks like you’re looking at the scene through the bottom of a Coke bottle. I found that particular device odd, calling attention to itself, but it worked. It sort of created this idea that we’re looking at a staged performance rather than attempting to mimic or capture strict reality, which makes some of the behavior of the main characters more palatable than they might be in another film.
There are one or two moments that are so over the top, they might have derailed another film. At one point, two characters dance during a formal party, as the Queen looks on. It starts out daintily enough, like you’ve seen in countless other 18th-century films, the mincing steps back and forth, a little bow here, a curtsy there. Then, as the music continues…something happens. The man lifts the woman and swings her around on his hips like a swing dance. They start to move their hands like in the “Vogue” video. At one point, I’d swear the man started a rudimentary breakdancing move. What’s going on here? Why is this jarringly anachronistic dance intruding on the proceedings?
My first reaction while watching the movie was to just laugh in disbelief, while asking, “What IS this?” Looking back on it now, I’d guess the purpose was to put ourselves into the mind of the Queen, whose perception of the dance starts to degrade the angrier she gets. Regardless of its true purpose, it’s thoroughly weird but hilarious.
(Also, the screenplay contains some of the greatest zingers I’ve heard in a very long time, although I doubt some of them are historically accurate. Not that I’m a historian, of course, but I remain unconvinced that British royals in the 1700s ever used the term “vajoojoo.”)
I’ll be honest, I was not previously aware of the actress Olivia Colman, who portrays the fragile, temperamental Queen Anne, before this movie, but I’ll be looking out for her from now on. She more than holds her own with two Oscar winners (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz). Colman’s Queen Anne is a spoiled brat whose petulance is tolerated because, you know, she’s the Queen. I loved a moment when she walks past an unsuspecting footman and yells at him, “Look at me! Look at me!!!” He turns and looks, and she immediately yells: “HOW DARE YOU LOOK AT ME!!!” Right there, early on, her character is indelibly defined.
The depths to which all three women sink to exact their own particular brands of revenge upon each other will astonish you. While the ending is not the one I quite hoped for, it’s extremely satisfying in a “be careful what you wish for” kind of way. This movie was a delicious romp, and is definitely worth your time.