Friday, December 14, 2018

The Favourite

Set during the reign of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), The Favourite is a sly period dramedy focused on the rivalry between two cousins (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) over position and the affection of the Queen. Filled with backstabbing, political maneuvering, and deception, the story begins with the arrival of Abigail (Stone), a former lady now forced into the role of a servant. Abigail is given a position in the palace by Lady Sarah (Weisz) who underestimates just how far her cousin will go to increase her station.

Set between the two women, and also the two political factions fighting over the war in France, at the heart of the film is Anne herself. Presented as a broken woman, who may not have been all that smart to begin with, Coleman infuses her with unexpected depths as we begin to wonder just how much of the manipulation she suspects. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, the look of The Favourite offers sharp contrast to the more vile machinations under the surface (not unlike its lead characters). Although there are men present, mostly in Parliament, the script views them as largely superfluous and spends little effort to hide where the true power in England lies.

The best word to describe the film is wicked. Often humorous, even using jokes in the title cards which separate the film's acts, director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Lobster) provides a more straightforward tale than some of his more recent projects while still bringing his influence and style to bear. The more grounded setting still provides plenty of room for each of the three actresses to shine and it has the added benefit of allowing their characters' scandalous behavior, in both large and small moments, to resonate all the more. The result is a film that enjoys poking and quipping on the historical stage while also delving into the darker emotions which feed the battle between Sarah and Abigail as they sneer, stomp, plot, and maneuver to earn the role of the Queen's favorite.

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