The Favourite is a wickedly funny tale of cutthroat competition. Ruthless characters lie, scheme, and screw their way into the heart of an obese, fickle monarch. The palace intrigue plunges into the absurd with devilish abandon. Brilliant performances and biting dialogue keep the story from becoming too silly. The Favourite is merciless in its depiction of British nobility. Greek Director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Lobster) continues to be an edgy and surrealistic filmmaker.
Olivia Colman stars as Queen Anne, the ruler of Great Britain. Petulant, spoiled, and ridden with gout, Anne prefers to play with her rabbits than make decisions about the war with France. Anne's bestie and puppet master is Sarah (Rachel Weisz), the Duchess of Marlborough. A cunning, fierce woman, Sarah placates Anne while undermining her opponents in parliament and running the war. Her rocksteady position in the queen's ear infuriates Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), the prissy Earl of Oxford who wants to declare peace with France.
Palace life becomes even more duplicitous with the arrival of Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), the niece of Lady Marlborough. Abigail's father lost the family fortune to booze and gambling. Penniless and without a title, Abigail begs her aunt for employment. Sarah flippantly assigns her to scrub floors in the kitchen. But Abigail is a fetching girl with ambitions. She catches the eye of a handsome nobleman, Lord Masham (Joe Alwyn). Then in a deft maneuver, insinuates herself into the company of Queen Anne. Sarah soon realizes that her niece has become a significant threat. The women engage in an epic struggle for the mercurial queen's attention.
The Favourite is about control of the British monarchy, but completely different in style and tone from Mary Queen of Scots. The Favourite is laugh out loud hilarious. The script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara uses adult themes and the vagaries of human nature to satirize historical events. The nobles at the center of this power play are mocked and lampooned. The pomposity of their wealthy lives skewered by their ludicrous pastimes. Yorgos Lanthimos delights in their foolish revelry. The court dance scenes, normally dull as rocks in English period films, had the audience in my screening in stitches.
The performances are great across the board, but Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, and Nicholas Hoult are sublime. Weisz is both ferocious and motherly to the toddler-like queen. Colman steals the film with Anne's hysterics. She stuffs her face with desserts and cheese, then waddles around screaming for attention; while her rabbits run amok. Hoult, who's dressed like a French dandy in wigs and make-up throughout, fails repeatedly in his attempts at subterfuge. Yorgos Lanthimos gets a hundred percent effort from his cast. You can see them relishing the material on screen.
The Favourite will be a major awards contender for Fox Searchlight Pictures. It's the kind of film that critics gobble up, but has wide appeal to general audiences. The lingering last shot is a stroke of artistic genius by Yorgos Lanthimos. Students in film school will be studying it for years to come.