Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz
Runtime: 119 mins
MPAA Rating: R
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) is without doubt one of the most creative directors working today. That being said, his works are downright confounding for many people. Once again that is probably going to be the case, even though he is not one of the screenwriters this time around. Blending a number of tones and ideas together, he brings to life a startling well-made, character-driven period drama that is unlike any other film when it is all put together.
Set in 18th century England amidst the reign of Queen Anne during a time of war with France, the story quickly introduces us to the feeble and temperamental monarch herself, played by the adept Olivia Colman, who seems to care more about her precious collection of rabbits than the affairs of state. There to guide her in war-time decision-making is her close personal friend and confidant, the distinguished and astute Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). Soon, we meet Lady Sarah’s spunky young cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) whose family has fallen on economic hard times, leading her to the employ of the Queen’s house staff. Over time, we watch as the upstart Abigail works her way into the Queen’s close favor, eventually even undercutting the Queen’s relationship with Lady Sarah. This film is driven by all three of the lead actresses’ captivating and vivacious performances that grab your attention during every scene. Colman really steals the shows as she portrays the queen’s capricious and cantankerous behavior effortlessly. The character is thoroughly well-written as it is clearly established that, underneath her status of royalty, she is a woman who has experienced serious loss and emotional pain in her life which has only been worsened by her power which allows her to indulge in her most deleterious tendencies. All in all, Colman’s portrayal is believable, humorous, bewildering, frightening, and ultimately depressing. The refined script captures the feel of 18th century British high-society speak and is entertaining as all of the interactions and exchanges in this triangular relationship provide fast-paced, witty dialogue that is at times amusing and at times tense.
The cinematography is a joy to view for the most part as characters are tracked down lengthy hallways, across ornate rooms, and around beautiful landscapes. Whip pans to jolt the viewer’s attention backwards from the current visual flow of a scene are not uncommon and help keep the audience on their toes. Many off-kilter camera angles frame characters in unique ways. Apparently, all natural lighting was used during production whether it be the outdoor settings or indoors via windows and/or candles, which yields a natural and authentic look to every scene. The different levels of lighting from scene to scene coincide with the current mood of the film, helping to reinforce how the audience should be approaching the situations in each scene. My only gripe with the visual presentation is that a number of ultra-wide-angle fisheye lens shots just felt out of place and took away from the natural feel of the rest of the film; I just personally found them aesthetically ugly. Besides this one intentional creative choice that I disliked, there are not many technical faults to be seen. Much of art direction and character actions are perplexing but in the most visually intriguing ways possible. At one point, there is a bizarre dance sequence that is absolutely beguiling as it is so out of place for the time period yet blends so seamlessly with the film’s style that you just watch in fascination. The production design is masterful as significant effort was put into making sure all of the intricately-detailed costumes, props, and settings were accurate to the time period. The period-appropriate score fills out the experience nicely; it is classically playful at times and distinguished at other points, smoothly transitioning the film between its different sections.
I do not want to say a whole lot more about this film other than that you should go see it to understand everything I am talking about. It is pretty hard to describe the intangibles that this movie possesses that makes it a distinct and pleasurable viewing experience. Even if you do not connect with the story and appreciate the filmmaking, you should at the very least be entertained by the sharp script and numerous scenes featuring the lead actresses’ skilled performances. Once again, this film is unlike any other, and I highly recommend it as one of the best cinematic works of 2018.
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