The effect of gravity modulation on long-wavelength disturbances at the free surface of a surfactant-covered thin liquid layer is analysed. The surfactants are assumed to be insoluble so that variations in their concentration along the free surface produce Marangoni flows in the underlying liquid. Lubrication theory is applied to obtain nonlinear partial differential equations that describe the behaviour of the free surface height and surfactant concentration, and the stability of these equations to small-amplitude disturbances is examined by applying Floquet theory. It is found that long-wavelength disturbances are destabilized by gravity modulation when surfactants are present, whereas such disturbances are stable when surfactants are absent. Results from additional calculations indicate that the instability becomes more difficult to excite as the Marangoni forces, body forces, capillary forces and surfactant diffusivity increase, and becomes easier to excite as the van der Waals forces increase.