This is a great, and against all my expectations, fairly accurate story of the rivalry between Abigail (later Baroness) Masham (played by Emma Stone) and Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) for the affections of and influence over Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). It’s one of the better costume period comedy/dramas. The writing is swell, the acting is terrific. I recommend it. There’s really not a lot more to say about the plot.
In most ways Anne was not a real significant monarch, and as portrayed here, not one of the brightest, either. Her accession to the throne was far too complicated for me to describe, or give a damn about. She was never all that healthy. And though it’s hard for me for believe, she had no less than seventeen pregnancies, and only one of the children survived … to the age of eleven, when he died of hydrocephalus. There were five stillbirths, seven miscarriages. One daughter lived almost a year, two daughters lived for two days, one lived two hours, and one son lived just long enough to draw breath. I usually don’t feel too bad about tragedies that befall the super-rich or the royally entitled, but that one sort of softened my hard heart.
I said the acting was great, and it was, from all three women. But there’s something strange, concerning the Motion Picture Academy’s weird rules about performances. Olivia Colman won this year as Best Actress, but I’m pretty sure she had no more screen time than Stone or Weisz. They were both nominated for Supporting Actress, which pretty much guaranteed that neither would win. But Emma Stone played the title character, the “favourite.” In fact, all three performances were just about equal. I think what it all comes down to is who got top billing. But it doesn’t seem fair. And though I’m sorry to say this, because Colman’s reaction to winning the Oscar was so endearing … Glenn Close got robbed.
One thing worth mentioning, and applauding, is the camera work. For most scenes a wide-angle lens is used, in some of them very wide, practically fish-eye. The result is that you can see the rooms and hallways quite clearly. There are no close-ups of tiny cooties crawling on someone’s nose hairs. There are no shots where you think an earthquake might be happening. In short, no fancy, “edgy” shots that so many directors use these days to cover up their incompetence. Bravo, Yorgos Lanthimos and cameraman Robbie Ryan!
But now I turn to some rather unusual complaints. The soundtrack, and the end credits, of all things. This has got to be a first. I hated, hated, hated the chapter headings and the end credits! I can’t reproduce them in their full awfulness in a website like this, but I can possibly give you an analogy. Say each line of the credits stretches from Los Angeles to New York on a map. The first letter of every line is placed in LA, and the last letter is in NY. So one line reads “CostumeDesignbyJoeBlow,” and yes, there are no spaces between the words, and who the fuck knows why. Anyway, you put the C in LA, and the W in NY. The next line is “And.” Again, you put the A in LA … and the D in NY. The N is somewhere around St. Louis, I guess. It is almost impossible to read it. And it’s just somebody named Vasilis Marmatakis showing off. Shame, shame!
And lastly, the sound track. Most of it is just grand, by some people you may have heard of, like Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart. But then we get an asshole named Johnnie Burn, backed up by “concrete” music by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), Luc Ferrari (1929-2005), and Anna Meredith (still living). He is credited with “Sound Design,” so I have to assume the sound referred to is two passages so excruciating that I almost turned off the DVD player. I’m not joking. I wish I could play it for you, but will have to describe it. There is the sound of a violin bow being dragged across a rusty handsaw. A second passes, and then there is the sound, more or less the same pitch, of somebody thumping on an empty tub of lard. A second passes, and repeat. Repeat for just about five minutes! Screech, thump, screech, thump, screech, thump, screech, thump, screech, thump. You get the idea. It has nothing to do with the scenes, in fact it made the scenes almost unwatchable for me, and anyone with any appreciation of music. I’m amazed that no one else seems to have minded it, or at least no one has complained. Maybe they are afraid of being tagged as lowbrow for failing to appreciate this catastrophic cacophony. Well, I’m not. Shit is shit, and this is pure shit.