With The Lobster (2015) having brained it on the art-house circuit, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is currently the Big Thing among cinephiles. This sumptuous drama, set at the court of England’s Queen Anne (1702–1704), has showered his growing reputation with more bouquets, but I found the movie, though glorious to the eye, not quite infinitely boring and self-conscious. It has the overweening ‘look at me’ aura of the filmmaker who wants to impress – and he does impress, with every perfect frame, make no mistake – but let’s be honest: if you’re talking about the style rather than the content for long after the credits have rolled the satisfaction is only fleeting. The story concerns a cold and calculating contest for the Queen’s favour between Anne’s lover and confidante, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), and her younger cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone). Both women involve themselves in the major political question of the time – whether or not to raise taxes to further prosecute the war with France – but it is the subtle but voracious manner in which Abigail connives to usurp the increasingly peeved Lady Sarah that Lanthimos is more concerned with. Weisz and Stone are excellent in their own way, but I reckon you can see them acting, whereas Olivia Colman is superb and entirely convincing as the lame, grieving monarch (she had suffered seventeen failed pregnancies). Locations and interiors (Hatfield House, Hertfordshire) are splendidly photographed by Robbie Ryan, but the real star of the show is the legendary costume designer Sandy Powell. The meticulously detailed frocks, for both ladies and gents, provide a pleasing contrast to the carnality of the period and if Lanthimos luxuriates in the grunge of a brothel scene and finds under-graduate pleasure in colouring his dialogue with the c-word, it at least smacks of authenticity. It is the sort of movie that you can watch, thinking ‘I know it’s good, so why am I not won over by it?’ Relief was my primary emotion at its close.
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