“The Favourite” Movie Review


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     Comedian Brian Regan performs a bit about airline travel in which he likens first class passengers to monarchs sitting on their thrones.  He hilariously describes the walk through the first class section on the way to coach, observing as these people say things to the airline attendants like “Bring me the head of a pig, and a goblet of something cool and refreshing.”.  I was reminded of Regan’s words as the first scene of Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” began to unspool and the wildly costumed buffoonery suddenly took center stage.  Taking place in early 18th century England, the film, written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara rifts on other notable love triangle fables such as “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Cruel Intentions” by setting the stage with a sick and desperate Queen, flanked by her best friend and an up and coming servant who looks to come between them.

     Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) suffers from an unexplained and painful infection on her legs which has left her bound to a wheelchair the majority of the time.  She is in the midst of ruling England as the country continues to forge ahead in a war with France, and is consistently dealing with the financial fallout amongst her people who can no longer afford the taxes necessary to fund the soldiers in battle.  At Anne’s side is her confidant and lover, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), who given the Queen’s often frail state, takes charge when dealing with those within the royal court and has established herself firmly to a position of power and influence.

     Early on, we meet Abigail (Emma Stone), a servant who once held the prominent title of a Lady, only to have her father sell her into slavery in an attempt to cover his own debts.  She arrives at the Queen’s home covered in mud as she is introduced to Sarah, who promptly assigns her to the kitchen staff.  Ironically, when a joke is made about the flies surrounding her because of the dirt, grime, and other substances spread about her body and clothes, she compares herself to a monster and growls at her new boss.  Perhaps a bit of foreshadowing for the character given both of these ladies go well beyond your typical snake in the grass.  No, these women are power hungry Pit Vipers, whose sole existence is dedicated to ascending as high as possible within high society and brutally taking those down who dare step in their way.

     The characters in “The Favourite” speak much like those in “Game of Thrones”.  Nearly every sentence contains some reference to sex and is laced with the most profane of terms with an obvious affection for the term “c**t” when seeking to put someone in their place.  The royal court is populated by mostly men, who for some reason feel it necessary to look “pretty” for the women, as they don large curly wigs and make their faces up with white clown face and red blush.  The most prominent of these men, Harley (Nicholas Hoult), seeks ways to influence the Queen for his own gain, and has found his informant in Abigail.  The Queen has taken a sudden and obvious liking to Abigail, who is more than happy to take Sarah’s place in the Queen’s bed.  She’s a character who once lived an upscale life and has the motivation to do anything it takes to get back what she feels is rightfully hers.  And as the relationship between the Queen and Sarah begins to deteriorate, Abigail has positioned herself to strike.

     None of this is to be taken on a serious note; however.  Lanthimos guides the audience through the massive chambers of the Queen’s home, often using a fisheye lens and an abundance of wide shots to indicate the size and detail of every room the characters traverse.  And the characters seem to remain in a proverbial costume party, as they drink, eat, dance, and make fun of each other in public and behind closed doors.  Nearly every scene ends with some sort of quip that will bring forth laughter from the audience, as every line seemingly becomes more audacious than the last.

     The performances by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone all stand out, providing a trio of female leads who command each and every scene.  And while Colman’s Queen Anne remains a tragic figure within the story, it’s the determined and devilish gaze we see between Sarah and Abigail as they compete for the power that comes from being at the Queen’s side which drives the narrative.  Some of the best exchanges occur over a series of scenes in which Sarah teaches Abigail how to shoot a rifle, as the duo fires at live birds who are released on their verbal order.  Abigail struggles initially, but she proves a quick learner and soon becomes a competent marksman.  I keep thinking about Abigail’s progression, mostly aided by Sarah herself, which culminates in her being there at just the right moments to take full advantage of the Queen’s softer more vulnerable side.  Of course it helps she knows the deepest secrets the Queen and Sarah would rather not divulge.  Knowledge that only helps in her quest to topple the competition.  

     There is no doubt each of these actresses are in top form, delivering some of the best performances of their respective careers, while the writing by Davis and McNamara ensures the actors are given a high level of material to work with and plenty of juicy moments to go around for everyone.  In addition, the standout costume design by Sandy Powell and the richly detailed production design by Fiona Crombie create quite the over the top royal spectacle, of which Lanthimos takes full advantage of with his unique methods in storytelling.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see nominations for best picture, directing, acting, writing, and plenty of the craft categories for this daring and extremely entertaining film.  All of which adds up to “The Favourite” being one of the best films of the year.  GRADE: A