THE STORY – In the 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 to return to her aristocratic roots.
THE CAST – Olivia Colman, Emma Stone & Rachel Weisz
THE TEAM – Yorgos Lanthimos (Director), Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara
THE RUNNING TIME – 120 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
Yorgos Lanthimos has, in the last three years, become one of the most exciting and unique filmmakers working today. In 2016 he put his own dark spin on a love story with “The Lobster.” Last year, he gave us one of the most original revenge films with “The Killing Of A Sacred Deer.” And now, he takes a rivalry between upstanding women in the high court of Queen Anne and uses it to create what is so far, my favorite (no pun intended) of his filmography so far with “The Favourite.” More accessible than his two previous films, “The Favourite” crackles with energy, wit, and humor, all the while still containing that undercurrent of darkness that has coursed its way through Lanthimos’ filmography so far. This may be a period film but a Merchant/Ivory production this is not. This is a Yorgos Lanthimos film through and through. By now, we should know what his brand is and you’re either along for the ride or you are not.
Set in the early 18th century, England is still at war with France under the rule of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). Extravagant activities are put together for her amusement such as ballroom dancing, duck racing and more, under the watchful eye of her closest friend, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). Sarah even rules the kingdom for Anne, leaving the queen to eat, sleep and consequentially immerse herself in self-pity due to her frail state and her battle with gout. Everything seems to be going well for Sarah both politically and in regards to her relationship with Anne, until one day Abigail (Emma Stone), arrives as a new maid for the castle. She quickly ascends the ranks, due to her charm and lust for power, becoming a friend and trusted confidant to Queen Anne, which puts her in direct competition with Sarah for the queen’s favor.
In “The Favourite,” the women rule the story, they rule the world around them (including the men) and perhaps to their detriment, they try to rule each other as well. Is it really favor with the Queen that Sarah and Abigail desire? Or is it power itself? For all of their scheming, tricks and jockeying for that power, Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne is always present to remind both ladies and the audience who is truly the one with all of the power. She may be lonely (hence, the accompaniment of 17 rabbits), fragile and suffering from gout but when push comes to shove, Queen Anne is a force that no one in the kingdom would dare mess with. That force is given life by Olivia Colman in a performance that gradually gets better and better as the film’s runtime moves along and the Queen’s health and mental state deteriorates, providing Colman with a range to play with that is both deliciously fun and pathetically sad.
The two ladies competing for her favor, are Abigail and Sarah, played by Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. Weisz (once again, as always) delivers another strong performance as the mind behind Queen Anne. She is truly the one running the kingdom, even though the political backdoor talks between her and the male characters is when the screenplay is at its weakest. Where the script truly comes alive is in the rivalry she develops with Abigail, played with such diabolical charm by Emma Stone. In what could possibly be her best role yet, we watch Stone’s Abigail (a once former lady who lost her good fortune) rise from nothingness to re-gain her stature and prominence within high society due to her uncompromising methods and willingness to use, step on and obliterate anyone in her path. Watching Emma Stone have this much fun with a role is such a wicked delight. She is clearly (here comes the pun again) “the favourite” and certainly my favorite of three central performances in this film, even though all three of them are all phenomenal. The screenplay affords each of them equal opportunities to shine and they all do in this fantastically acted ensemble.
If any faults can be found within “The Favourite,” they are minimal compared to all of the great work Lanthimos, his cast, and crew provides us. The film is told in eight acts (each titled with a curiously amusing line of dialogue from the film) and moves at a whip cracked pace throughout, gradually building on the stakes as each act moves along. A sense of exhaustion does start to set in though and by the time Act 5 rolls around, we do start to wonder where Lanthimos’ wild story will ultimately take us. It’s odd to say that this highly entertaining film can still feel too long but when we’re over 90 minutes in and scenes involving the conflict between England and France are still popping up when all we want to do is get back to the ladies and their conflict, fatigue does start to set in.
Lanthimos adds a degree of style to “The Favourite” which makes this period production feel incredibly modern with a splash of madness. From the wide angles, fisheye lenses, blown out contrast lighting, camera whip pans and unique editing (with a stunner of a final shot involving a crossfade technique which took my breath away), “The Favourite” has Yorgos Lanthimos’ stamp all of over it. It may not still be for everyone but I suspect more people will flock towards “The Favourite” than they ever have for a Yorgos Lanthimos film and it may even encourage others to check out his previous work. With a trio of awards-worthy performances (including a surprising career-best turn from Nicholas Hoult), gorgeous design, costumes, makeup, editing, music, cinematography and everything else in between, “The Favourite” stands as one of my favorite films of 2018 (This pun really isn’t going to go away this year).
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A trio of phenomenal performances. Lanthimos’ style over all aspects of production. The screenplay’s wit and cunning edge.
THE BAD – Does start to drag a little bit in the third act. Political talk of the war between England and Frances is not as interesting as the war being waged by the women on each other in this film.