It’s unclear quite when it happened, but somewhere along the way, Olivia Colman became a national treasure, or at the very least, a national treasure in waiting. No doubt playing royalty, twice in quick succession (here and as Liz 2 in the upcoming third season of The Crown on Netflix), is a big help. Just ask Helen Mirren.
She once again teams up with her The Lobster director Yorgos Lanthimos, to star as Queen Anne in his latest project.
It’s 1708 and Britain has gotten into a bit of a scrape with France. Unfortunately the current ruling monarchy is otherwise pre-occupied. Sitting on the throne is Queen Anne (Colman) whose gout is causing a greater distraction than the French.
Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) the Queen’s confident and advisor, is keen to oversee proceedings, as she believes she knows what’s best for the country, and manages to get her majesty to act on her behalf, which annoys MP Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), who sees the war as a huge financial burden.
The Queen’s court however, is shaken up a little with the arrival of Abigail (Emma Stone); although the cousin of Sarah, her family have fallen on hard times and don’t have a penny to their name. Sarah decides to take a modicum of pity out on her, and gets her a position in the kitchen. However, despite her outwardly grateful, angelic manner, Abigail has loftier ambitions, and is prepared to take on all comers who are foolish enough to get in her way, even family.
It doesn’t take long for Abigail’s plan to reap results, as it’s fair to say that Queen Anne takes quite a shine to her...
One of the first things that strikes you with Lanthimos’ film, which sadly really shouldn’t be an issue, is that it revolves around three strong female characters. In a twisted, period rom-com at that. Perhaps the film’s release – and subsequent success – will help challenge the antiquated notion that audiences won’t watch a predominately female cast, because when you have a cast this good, they’d be mad not too.
Much will no doubt be made of Colman’s performance, which although enjoyable, isn’t a million miles away from characters she’s played in the past. However, Stone is thoroughly entertaining as the devious Abigail, and Weisz in particular gives a superbly nuanced performance as Lady Sarah, that is totally mesmerising.
The script is also unexpectedly quirky, that leads to some wonderfully comic moments.
It’s not all good news however; Lanthimos goes overboard with his use of a fish-eye lens - often squishing scenes that don’t necessarily need squishing - and the story lacks direction, with the last third flagging somewhat before petering out.
Still, those minor issues can be overlooked, when there some truly majestic performances on display, that are most definitely worth an audience.