18th century England, the court of ageing Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), the last of the Stuart monarchs. Anne is an unconfident ruler and a very lonely woman, overweight, depressed, moody, even suicidal. Small wonder – she’s lost as many as 17 children and now she needs constant attention. Nobody seems to understand her better than lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), her childhood friend. Sarah makes the Queen laugh, massages royal legs, fills the void in royal bed, teases and strokes Anne’s ego like nobody else. Still she encounters an unexpected rival in a form of Abigail (Emma Stone), her penniless cousin who starts the court career as a lowly maid in the palace’s scullery.
Abigail is intelligent and, allegedly, far gentler and meeker than cocky Sarah. She finds a way to the Queen’s bedchamber and to her ear too. Soon she is employed by the Queen herself and draws attention of an ambitious politician, Robert Harley who wants to become prime minister. Will Abigail manage to outmanoeuvre him and Sarah in order to return to her previous walk of life?
On the one hand, I enjoyed the story immensely. The rivalry between Sarah and Abigail was so refreshing after all these all-male historical dramas. The Queen was such a splendid example of a petulant child hiding under the clothes of a woman in power, a miscast monarch, a complex, tragic, funny, sometimes even horrible human being. All the setting was deliciously contemporary, despite the costumes and linguistic anachronisms. Speaking about the language… there was a lot of cuss words. I didn’t like that even if it fitted the atmosphere. When it comes to historical accuracy, well, don’t look very close at it and you’ll be fine. Overall, while the broad outlines of the rivalry for Anne’s attentions are true, many of the major episodes and themes of the film are either purely fictional or are highly speculative. For one thing nobody has ever proved that the Queen liked women in her bed. Quite contrary, Queen Anne was close to her husband who was left out of the picture in the movie even though he was alive for most of the time covered. Oh well – after all it was a movie, not a history lesson, right?
A caustic comeuppance comedy with fangs and claws. If you enjoy historical movies with more heroines than heroes, you should watch this one.