For our earlier review of The Favourite, click here.
Synopsis: Early 18th century England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant Abigail arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the Queen’s companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfill her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way. (Fox Searchlight)
Starring: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone
Writers: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 121mins
Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has made some weird films in his day and his newest film, The Favourite, was no different but arguably is not as “out there” as The Lobster or The Killing of a Sacred Deer (I still have to see Dogtooth). That’s not necessarily a bad thing since this makes the film more accessible for audiences. For those worrying about it not being outrageous enough, don’t worry because this film does take the occasional shot of absurd that one would expect from a Lanthimos film. This film takes that trademark absurdity and places it in a historical setting.
The story took place in early 18th century England where the country was in middle of a war with France. While the frail and almost child-like Queen Anne (Colman) sat on the throne, her friend Lady Sarah (Weisz) governed in her place meanwhile tending to Anne. This particular arrangement worked for the two of them but things would change for them once a new servant named Abigail (Stone) came into their lives. A former member of the upper class, she saw this as an opportunity to regain her the status she lost. To do so, she would have to wedge herself in between Anne and Sarah, using the current war as a distraction.
The war plagued England thus keeping Sarah busy. The country may have been in shambles but Anne couldn’t be bothered by any of it. This gave Abigail the perfect chance to develop a friendship with Anne. Getting so close to her so quickly got the attention of Anne’s court and an overzealous member of parliament named Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult). He and Sarah had been at odds with one another while trying to control Anne for their own benefit so he tried to use Abigail to his advantage. Unfortunately, this part of the story was a little underwhelming as a whole.
For the most part, the film was about the rivalry between Sarah and Abigail. With that, the film truly excels. The lengths that Sarah and Abigail, and Harley to a certain extent, would go to either stay at the top or get back to the top were fun to watch. Over time, the film would also shed some insight into Anne’s tragic backstory. While she may like a caricature to some, her actions, hilarious as most were, came from a place of great pain. She definitely made an impression but it would have been nice to have seen more of her here. These characters ultimately get satisfying sendoffs in a way only Lanthimos can.
This was also a beautiful film with a palpable sense of uneasiness throughout thanks to a chilling score and some inventive cinematography. Being a period piece, the film also nails the period with some impeccable set designs and costumes. However good the film may look, it would not have worked if not for the excellent performances of Colman, Weisz, and Stone as Anne, Sarah, and Abigail respectively and their equally excellent chemistry. They are all rightfully getting the recognition they deserve.
Colman was a delight, packing in plenty of depth and nuance beneath all her erratic behavior, and her great comedic timing often stole the spotlight from her other co-stars. Weisz was probably the straight man of the three but she was still amusingly savage. Out of the three, Stone was the best and had the best arc as the more complex character of the three. Besides the three leads, Hoult also had some hilarious moments as the over-the-top Harley.
Overall, this was an amusingly absurd period comedy with inventive cinematography and a super sharp script. At its core, it’s a compelling story about rivalry and the pursuit of power, featuring three great characters that the film could have gone deeper with but it still does an admirable job nonetheless. While it could have been framed within a more interesting story, it was still fun to watch thanks to a trio of excellent performances from its three leads who are rightfully getting recognition they deserve.