Film Review: The Favourite (2018)

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite offers up a thoroughly human approach to history and three cracking performances from Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz

“Don’t shout at me, I am the Queen”

It may seem like casting directors have forgotten that there are other actresses available alongside Olivia Colman but when the work she produces is this irresistible, you can’t help but indulge them. But though she is being pushed as the lead of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, it is important to note that she eagerly shares that spotlight with both Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone.

Which is unique enough for Hollywood in general, never mind a mainstream historical film. But here, Lanthimos completely upends convention to produce something unique, compelling and utterly significant. The history of Queen Anne’s reign may be less of an unknown quantity to recent theatregoers although nothing there will have prepared anyone for the affecting and effective novelty of this approach.  

Written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite focuses on the tussle between Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, and her cousin Abigail for the favour of Queen Anne who has little interest in ruling. Worn down by an unusually punitive existence (she lost 17 children and was plagued by ill health), her reliance on advisers was one Sarah exploited to the full.

Weisz is superb as the swaggeringly confident Duchess (those breeches!), able to manipulate the Queen how she will until the arrival of Emma Stone’s Abigail sets the cat among the pigeons. Stone nails her British accent but as she insinuates her way up from maid to lady-in-waiting, the power games that come into play between this pair are horrifyingly fascinating.

And as is often the case, the prize they’re competing for can sometimes seem scarcely worth it. Colman’s monarch is a portrait of infantilised indulgence, kept this way by those who would keep power from her but also her own worst enemy in abetting her emotional estrangement. She’s often hilarious (the poor pageboy!) but also treads the line of being tragic but never pathetic with consummate skill.

Throw in duck races (the best credit in the film is for Horatio – Fastest Duck in the City), an inspired dance break, rabbits aplenty and a suite of pampered male characters only allowed onto the sidelines, and the whole thing proves a beguiling confection. And through the eyes of some stunning cinematography from Robbie Ryan, it is disquieting too – a thoroughly human approach to history and excellent with it.

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