Director Yorgos Lanthimos’s third movie in four years, The Favourite, was released at the end of 2018. A costume drama about the reign and relationships of England’s Queen Anne, The Favourite isn’t afraid of having fun at the expense of its subjects’. Movies like The Favourite rarely allow the audience the lavish pleasure of believing that its characters were living, breathing, fallible human beings at one time or another. The Favourite is different. Its characters are cutthroat, duplicitous, and petty, and the result is worth witnessing.
Set during a war between England and France, The Favourite is about Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her time on the throne. The movie revolves a trio of women, however; Queen Anne and two women who compete for Anne’s affection. Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) is the daughter of a disgraced lord who lost his title and lands gambling. Undeterred by this, Abigail makes her way to the castle with her sights on regaining her ladyship once more. A servant at first, Abigail wins the Queen’s favor by preparing an herbal remedy to the Queen’s gout. This puts Abigail on near-equal footing with the Queen’s current favorite and advisor, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). An older cousin of Abigail, Sarah does not take kindly to the threat of losing her position on the court.
Coming off of 2015’s surrealist satire The Lobster and 2017’s idiosyncratic The Killing of a Sacred Deer, no director was better suited for this material than Lanthimos. His ability to find humor in the even the bleakest of situations made him an ideal fit. If you like manipulation and quiet loathing, The Favourite is for you. Writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara glaze over the historical details, but that’s par for the course in Hollywood. Besides, Davis and McNamara had loftier goals in mind. Facts be damned, telling a story about politics, classism, and female intrasexual competition through a comedic lens is far more impressive than teaching your contemporaries about a short period of English history.
The brilliance of the script and the actors interpreting it (especially the powerful triumvirate of Colman, Weisz, and Stone) cannot be overstated. The extreme lengths that Abigail and Sarah go to in order to impress their Queen are hysterical or intense, depending on where they occur in the movie. On top of its humor and drama, The Favourite looks great. Director of photography Robbie Ryan’s bright cinematography shows off the opulence so common in wealthy European countries in the 18th century. The costumes, a staple of period pieces, are as extravagant and absurd as ever. Come for the sights, and stay for the sounds of the shrewd script. The Favourite isn’t worth one viewing. It’s worth two.