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Film Review: The Favourite (2018)
January 26, 2019
A well-told tale played to perfection, The Favourite stars Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone in an English courtly comedy-drama. Queen Anne (Colman) is a weak-willed, gout-stricken ruler with a poor grip on matters of state. Her closest confidant and carer, the brilliant and beautiful Lady Sarah (Weisz), keeps the country running during a war with France in 1708. A wrench is thrown into the works when Abigail (Stone), Sarah’s pretty, young cousin whose family has fallen on hard times, shows up at court and manoeuvres her way into the queen’s affections. A fiery battle of intelligence and charm escalates between the two women over the fickle ruler’s favour. Nicholas Hoult also has a small role as the tall, foppish, and very mean Head of Opposition who becomes a sort of ally for Abigail.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ finely tuned, extravagant visuals and razor-sharp, dead-pan comedic tone elevate this period piece into a fresh parody on the barbarity of 18th century English court. The sets and costumes are absurdly beautiful and in high contrast to the ugly actions of the characters and the ghastly makeup and massive wigs of the upper classes. Colman throws herself completely into the role of the swollen and misshapen Queen Anne, who is surrounded by luxury and beauty yet completely devoid of grace and beauty herself, instead slowly becoming a mere petulant appetite that Sarah and Abigail try to placate. Lanthimos finds moments of ugliness or vulgarity too for the always regal Weisz and almost ethereal Stone with sudden violence (or vomit) cropping up and with the camera rarely turning away. The usual clipped, affectless dialogue that characterized The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer (Lanthimos’ last two films) also feels a lot more natural in the time and setting of The Favourite. With the high wit of Sarah, Abigail, and Harley (Hoult), there are some absolutely hilarious acerbic lines traded among them.
With ten award nominations for the upcoming 91st Oscars, The Favourite really has become one of the favourites and possibly Lanthimos’ most accessible film yet.