This is not a review, it’s just some thoughts on the movie and the characters. Briefly, though: four and a half stars, superb acting, beautiful sets, funny but ultimately quite tragic.
Queen Anne is the emotional center of the movie, and of course Olivia Colman is great in the role: Anne is not stupid but is overcome by pain, both physical and emotional. From what I gather the movie understates her competence a bit, but the movie also completely ignores the fact that she had a husband, so historical accuracy wasn’t what I was looking for.
The first several acts set you up to sympathize with Abigail. She’s young, she’s prettier, she’s destitute. It’s only when she starts poisoning people and blowing off Queen Anne that you look back and realize, huh, Abigail lied almost reflexively throughout the movie.
Sarah is, conversely, honest. She loves playing the political game a lot and she’s sincerely vicious about it, but when she says that she would never lie to Queen Anne she’s telling the truth. (Other people have no such assurances.)
There’s this moment around the midway point where Abigail and Sarah aren’t pretending with each other any more, and Abigail says “look, I got what I wanted, we can stop fighting and be friends now.” Once more, in retrospect, that’s a total lie. The two women were on opposite sides of the political battles of the day, and Abigail had already betrayed Sarah’s trust by spilling to Harley.
Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are so great with all of this. Weisz shows all this brash, annoying confidence early on and it’s easy to dislike her Sarah for being casually cruel. Abigail is trying to hard to get out of an awful life, and who can blame her? But the changes in character are purely changes in perspective: you never doubt that the cruel Abigail of the final scene is the same one who desperately said she was willing to be a monster to scare the children in her first scene.
Which, come to think of it, is exactly what she wound up doing.