This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Andrew Franklin’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
One of the best movies of its year, in that it so clearly demonstrates the proficiency and attention to detail in every area.
I don’t know where the screenplay’s (not written by Lanthimos, for once) contributions begin and Lanthimos’ contributions begin in terms of tone and dialogue, so I won’t pretend to, but this dialogue is so delicious and pairs really well with Lanthimos’ particular brand of humor.
I find the plot especially intriguing in terms of character arcs. I like the power struggles between the three protagonists, and the beats in their love triangle synecdochically representing major 18th century political shifts. I like the sort of moral message concerning Abigail, the way she’s characterized at first as only a survivor, someone willing to do whatever it takes to not be selling her asshole to syphilitic soldiers (her line, not mine), only to eventually find herself becoming just as power-and-status-obsessed as Anne or Sarah. And then, of course, the last scene, in which, after all this, after she’s “won,” she finds herself treated by Anne just as if she were still a servant. And you’ve got to admire a major release in 2019 where the protagonists are three bisexual women (two in their late 40s). Still, it represents a pretty big success on the crew and cast alike that it’s as interesting and engaging and watchable and easy-to-follow as it is. The MacGuffin of a big majority of this movie is the debate of whether to increase taxes on aristocratic landowners, after all.
The direction and the cinematography and the production design and the score are great and deserve every bit of praise thrown at them, obviously. And the three leads should also be commended for what they do here. Olivia Colman is great as the Queen, and I’m happy to see a former Hot Fuzz cast member getting this kind of recognition. Emma Stone has a big task playing an English person without it being obvious, and I think she pulls it off, and she also has to portray Abigail all the way throughout her evolution from the sympathetic (for the audience) survivor all the way to the socialite she becomes. She’s basically the “hero” of the story at least structurally, so it’s impressive that she can keep the audience engaged as they ride the film’s moral rollercoaster.
And as far as I’m concerned Rachel Weisz is the underrecognized MVP here. I found it fascinating, her arc. How she goes from the cunning, ruthless politician to having her face dragged off on the ground and being left to die in a whorehouse. And the moment when she crashes the party covered in blood and dirt and sporting whatever the 1700s version of a pantsuit is is just so badass. By the way the below the line crew deserves massive recognition here as well, because the dark dresses, increasingly masculine clothing, and facial injury are all carrying a ton of weight in Sarah’s characterization.
When I first left this movie, I concluded that “the good guys won.” Abigail and Harley ended the war after all, and isn’t that in itself a good thing? The treasonous (maybe?) Sarah has been exiled, and Abigail is on top.
Did the good guys really win though? The war is ended, but was Harley ever actually concerned with poor lives? He’s a landowner, representing landowners, and he’s spent the film’s runtime fighting against a tax increase on landowners to fund the war. Couldn’t one, then, conclude that it’s the wealthy people acting in bad faith who win here? Abigail is on top, yes. She’s in the Queen’s bedroom and not giving her asshole to syphilitic soldiers. But she’s sacrificed the little amount of morality she had. Her innocence is all gone, as we see when she put her foot down on one of Anne’s “children” with nothing to gain from it. And she discovers very quickly, like Sarah must have known, that living as the Queen’s right hand woman isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
So perhaps it’s not so simple as the good guys or bad guys winning.