Plot: As England battles the forces of France, the nation is under the rule of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), who has little idea of what is going on in her own household, let alone on the battlefront. While she struggles with attacks of gout, tends to her rabbits, and enjoys cake, the day to day affairs of England are overseen by Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), Anne’s right hand woman. Not only does Sarah help steer the nation’s war effort and general politics, but she cares for Anne’s personal needs and desires, including her more carnal impulses. In other words, Sarah might not be Queen, but she is more or less the center of power, a position she much enjoys. But when her cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, covered in mud and with her title of Lady stripped, what starts as a small act of kindness soon spirals out of control. Abigail has no intention of staying in the servant role Sarah has offered her, which leads to an epic struggle for power, with Queen Anne in the middle.
Entertainment Value: The Favourite is likely the most accessible of Yorgos Lanthimos’ pictures, but it retains the usual dark, absurd sense of humor and focus on dysfunctional human relationships. The narrative centers on the intense, brutal rivalry between Sarah and Abigail, but several other threads run through the movie and it invests immense time on character development. The prominent roles are of course explored the most and with great depth, but smaller characters are also given some development time, which pays off frequently. But to me, how all three of our main characters handle their respective issues, both personal ambitions and demons, is what pushes the movie, as well as the social boundaries of the world they inhabit. The dialogue is brilliant and provides so many memorable moments, with the odd sense of humor embraced by the cast, all of whom turn in fantastic efforts. The monotone cadence found in Lanthimos’ earlier films is mostly gone here, so The Favourite has a different texture, but it still feels like one of his movies, without question. This is also a period piece, complete with lavish costumes, set design elements, and locations, but don’t expect historical accuracy, as to call this loosely based on real events would be an understatement. I had an absolute blast with The Favourite and I think it proves Lantimos’ creative brand of cinema can retain its core and still have wide appeal.
The cast of The Favourite is phenomenal, with Emma Stone, Olivia Colman, and Rachel Weisz all in peak, unforgettable performances. Olivia Colman is given a tough role, one that puts a lot of demands on her to perform in less than ideal situations, but she more than rises to the occasion. In what becomes a trend for the actresses in this one, Colman is able to convey so much with just her facial expressions and mannerisms. This leads to some razor sharp moments where subtle, nonverbal social cues come into play and make scenes so powerful. She treads in weakness for most of the movie, but also comes to life when required and delivers strong emotion and presence, simply a great effort that will add so much to Colman’s legacy as a performer. I’ve never been much of an Emma Stone fan, but she is beyond excellent in this movie and delivers what I think is easily her finest work to date. Again she does so much with her facial expressions, body language, and reactions, a brilliant and highly memorable performance. The cast also includes Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, and James Smith.