Ceri Millington’s review published on Letterboxd:
This might have been a massively acclaimed film upon release but it failed to seem more than over stylised and hyped to me. Gratefully, my expectation-less return to the film provided me with a markedly different experience, revealing a rich tale of multiple aspects: an immensely witty satire-cum-farce, a look at the crushing nature of misogyny, and an exploration of the desperate cruelties of the fight for power. There is some pathos lacking that pushes it from subjective perfection, but it rewards viewers in so many ways.
It has a relatively unexplored era to let loose within. Queen Anne's (Olivia Colman) court in 18th century England is the dramatic centre, and we see that, whilst war rages in France, fierce and multifaceted subterfuge unfolds around this lonely leader. Politicians vie to grab her wandering and insular attentions, but the real war is between Lady Sarah Malborough (Rachel Weisz), her confidante, lover, and spokesperson, and status-robbed Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) who desperately seeks a route out of ignominy. We see power plays attempted in ways and with a verve that takes us from total period drama familiarity.
The narrative provides plenty of sustenance on a thematic level, the desperate, scheming dance for power partly being so compelling because there are real stakes. The women at the centre of the story all have ever-changing grasps on power, Malborough tentatively bending the Queen's ear to her will but deeply threatened by the possible tumbling from stature that Abigail's arrival signals. However, even the country's seemingly unassailable leader is simply a pawn — and a swarm of men surround all with their own schemes. Power corrupts the morality and hopes of all, driven by patriarchal values, and so the cleverness of the script is elevated by real intelligence.
But it's a finely tuned film from all angles, with precise direction eliciting perfect performances from its principles and supporting cast. There's a theatricality to the style, artifice in the practised delivery and the script itself, and the cast delivering on this approach allows the serious drama and almost bawdy, sometimes anachronistic humour to line up without error. There's so much immersive enjoyment to be had from seeing actors bring brilliant material to life.
It's an original work and superlative in all its aspects, more than meriting a rewatch regardless of thoughts on the first viewing. Perfect entertainment can be found in a delightfully rich mixture of gorgeous visuals, tremendously biting wit, and unforgettably characterful performances. There is the issue, still, of it not quite hitting the emotional depths you might want it to plumb, but this, whilst a weakness, hardly matters. Joy and purpose are threaded through this film, a modern classic that will keep you thinking on it and likely keep you coming back.