- Olivia Colman as Queen Anne
- Rachel Weisz as Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough
- Emma Stone as Abigail Hill
- Nicholas Hoult as Robert Harley
- Joe Alwyn as Samuel Masham
A riotous, outrageous and caustically witty look at the court of Queen Anne and the machinations of it, The Favourite is both savage and very funny as directed by the maestro that is Yorgos Lanthimos.
It is the early 18th Century and England is at war with France. Queen Anne, The last of the Stuart monarchs, is on the throne but is besieged by sadness, gluttony and manic mood swings. She has lost seventeen children and now keeps seventeen rabbits in their place, while also enjoying many unusual activities. Anne is distracted from her duties as Queen and is extremely vulnerable. She relies heavily on Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough. Sarah is powerful and persuasive, trying to make the Queen continue with the war as her husband is at the helm and she wants a level of power. Although she obviously cares for Anne( with who she is secretly sharing a bed), she is very manipulative and uses her position of favourite to her advantage. Although she is in the Queen’s life and attempts to steer her away from the political efforts of leader of the opposition Robert Harley, she doesn’t account for the arrival of someone vying for position. This person is her impoverished cousin Abigail Hill, who was formally of high society but now of a lowly station. She begs Sarah for a job and is put in the scullery. This is much to her chagrin and she aspires for more in life than the drudge of being a simple servant. She gains a chance at climbing the ladder when she helps with making something that eases the gout which the Queen suffers from. Anne takes a shine to Abigail and has her become an ever more present person in her life. Sarah doesn’t take kindly to this, having misjudged Abigail as just a simple innocent. The actual fact is that Abigail is ruthless and cruel, willing to bend over backwards in favour of the Queen but secretly working her vicious powers to secure a foothold in society. Soon a dangerous and vindictive grab for power is at play, with both Sarah and Abigail hoping that they come out on top as the favourite of Queen Anne.
The Favourite finds Yorgos Lanthimos at his most anarchistic, tearing apart the restrained image of period pieces and inserting wildness and dirty games. If period dramas are often seen as rather innocent, The Favourite is a welcome, atypical piece that isn’t afraid to be weird and bracingly eventful. Featuring lust, eccentric activities like racing ducks and lobsters, as well as a very sexually dark atmosphere, The Favourite is very much it’s own being and an amazing change of pace. Historical accuracy is probably not what you’ll find here, but when has history ever been this fun or oddball? The script wisely makes the women layered, peeling back to reveal the flawed but fascinating nature of all of them. And there is genuine emotion to be found in this weird and cruel world of 18th Century court, mostly found in the vulnerable but not completely broken Anne. It may not be written by Lanthimos, but it unmistakably captures his sensibilities and transfers them to a sinfully, devilish and amusing tale of rivalry, coupled with a liberal sprinkling of swear words. And the spinning, panning and fish eye lens employed supplies a dizzying and whirling visual style that marks it as something different. Add to this the flickering, golden interiors that bathe a lot of the action in a dusky setting, The Favourite aces it. On musical grounds, classical music fills the main bulk of the film, creating high drama and a quickening intensity to the power struggle at the heart of The Favourite. The only tiny flaw, and it is very small, is that the film does sometimes run aground and needs a bit more pace. But with that being my only minuscule gripe, I think it’s safe to see The Favourite is one of the most outlandish and excellent movies in my recent memory.
What really brings The Favourite to an amazingly high level is the work of a trio of fine actresses. Comprising Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, they turn in some mightily effective work that ranks as some of their best. Olivia Colman is the centre of it all with a performance of both tragedy and comedy. Anne is a melancholy and almost childlike woman who seems to be as fragile as glass and as changeable as mercury. Colman finds these mannerisms and adds yet more levels to this character, telegraphing a whole host of emotions from pity to humour as Anne shows she’s not as temperamental as she at first appears . Simply put, Colman is winning and ideal in her acting here. Ably matching her is Rachel Weisz; all clear-cut words, biting wit and intense looks. Weisz clearly relishes the dialogue and gets some wickedly, catty put downs. Yet like the other ladies here, Weisz displays another side to her role and makes it multi-faceted. Emma Stone, complete with crisp, English accent, delivers one of her most memorable performances in a role that is far away the most daring one she’s ever done. Being a vindictive charmer whose innocent appearance masks a grasping and scheming viper, Stone’s having a ball. There are flickers of desperation there, but Stone most excels at being nasty and seductive. It’s not hard to see why all three ladies are in awards contention. In supporting roles, Nicholas Hoult is a hoot as a plotting but ridiculous member of Parliament, whose giant wig is as big as his ego. Joe Alwyn also provides much silliness and rakish behaviour as a nobleman who becomes infatuated with Abigail.
A completely brazen and well acted movie that boasts the trademark uniqueness of Yorgos Lanthimos and a strange depiction of power play in regards to royalty, The Favourite stands as one entertaining and unusual movie that for me is a must see. It’s a crowning achievement of directing and acting.