The Favourite is a film that takes place during the reign of Queen Anne and is about the two women who jockey for her favor and her ear in political matters. It stars Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as Lady Sarah and Abigail Hill respectively. It's directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.
If you've ever undertaken the journey of seeing a Yorgos Lanthimos film you know that a cloud of darkness hangs over the comedy of them. Pitch black is too light a descriptor for most of his comedies as they are often leave one crying and aching as they laugh. Yet, this one has a different feel and maybe it's because it's a film he didn't write.
I have found the last few films of his to have wooden, soulless performances that make you want to turn it off. There are a few actors who can get above his directing and writing style, but they are few. The Favourite feels much lighter on its feet even as it revels in the mud and the, literal, shit. I think it's thanks to that snappy, witty, crass script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara.
It's also thanks in large part to the superb triumvirate of actresses in the lead roles. Olivia Colman is astonishing as the tragic, desperate, lonely figure of Queen Anne. Her power is secure and yet, she is so insecure in it that she has to exude it and figuratively throw her weight around as her mood swings violently in either direction. It's a performance written on her face as much as it is in her commanding voice.
Then there's Rachel Weisz as Lady Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. Her ambitions are vast and her command of the screen is only palpable to her command of the feeble men around her. She shoots guns, she rides horses, she slaps, throws books and tortures people with a glance. She is the power behind the power and Weisz plays it tough even as she shows her love for the Queen. It's a performance that's alternatively funny and terrifying as Weisz pulls off each aspect with grace and intensity.
With those two powerhouses, one would think that Emma Stone as Abigail Hill, would be a weak link, but she's toe to toe with the other two. She comes in as a character we expect to sympathize with and then she makes that delicate turn to knowing how to get exactly what she wants. Her acts of kindness turn to a malevolence in the blink of an eye or the fading of a smile. She's a woman who was sold from her station, beaten, bloodied, raped, who clawed her way back up with her wits and her charms and she'll never let go to any power she has. Stone does a magnificent job, relying on her comedy chops and breathing life into her dramatic side.
The women are fabulous, but everyone should also pay attention to the witty, violent, ambitious, crass, vulgar, dandy wonderful performance by Nicholas Hoult as Harley, the leader of the opposition. He's so very delightful to watch as he attempts to play chess with all the pieces at his disposal and crush anyone who bores him.
The way Lanthimos captures these machinations is intriguing as well as he employs a fish eye lens, he swings his camera, zooms at the perfect moment and follows smoothly without the shakiness that has become so common in cinema. He needs these flourishes, as the production design is so busy, in the best way, that if the camera stayed still, it would miss the actors for the decorations. The incredible sets are only dwarfed by the lavish and lustrous costumes mixed with the unnecessary and silly makeup of the time.
Being a Yorgos Lanthimos fim, though, The Favourite, does include some, light animal cruelty, some self harm you wonder if the actor is actually doing for real, and some unwanted, but not unconsenting (prostitutes, who have been paid) sex.
The Favourite is hilarious without being needlessly cruel and politically devious without the need for a man in charge. I recommend it to all who have seen a stuffy period piece and just want someone to drop the act and say what we're all hoping they'll say.