- Film & TV
- 21 Jan 19
Loosely based on a real rivalry for Queen Anne’s partiality, 'The Favourite' explores the complexities of British royalty with a darkly comedic imagination.
The comedy-drama set in early 18th century England is equal parts whimsy and aggression, immaculately fused into a film that leaves viewers with a distinct sense of brutal satisfaction.
Born from the creative genius of Deborah Davis and co-writer Tony McNamara, the story is told in a series of vignettes following the impoverished Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) as she vies for the affection of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) opposite her cousin, Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), who just so happens to be the queen’s confidante-turned-secret-lover.
The Favourite is easy to praise, boasting enormous strength from the characters and the actors who play them.
In large part due to her failing health, Queen Anne has little interest in the state of affairs of England, leaving the majority of governing decisions to Sarah, who couldn’t be more pleased by her power and influence. Weisz is able to capture and deliver Sarah’s superiority and austerity without missing a beat.
But it is the ever-delightful Stone who immediately steals hearts. So convincing as Abigail, it is difficult not to fall in love with her from her first scene, when she arrives at the palace caked in mud and eager to gain employment.
Throughout the film, Abigail is challenged by an esoteric yet universal truth — to be powerful, one must also be cruel. She enters the stage as the underdog, but taking cues from Sarah, she quickly realises that she cannot be kind-hearted if she intends to survive.
As Abigail rises from good-natured scullery maid to cunning lady-in-waiting, it feels natural to accept the fact that her success entails the destruction of her cousin and anyone else in her way.
The cinematography adds to the film’s overarching themes. The rich grandeur of the palace is heavily emphasized with the use of fisheye and wide-angle lenses. The interiors directly juxtapose the characters themselves, instilling a sense of isolation as they lose themselves in rooms filled to the brim with the ostentatious influence of Baroque.
And as the relationships unfold on screen, it’s apparent that the characters really are isolated.
The reality of England’s war with France and all its implications are lost on the three leading characters, who are largely unaffected as they galavant through the queen’s palace. And yet, amidst this slew of violence and selfishness, it’s hard not to sympathise with them.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos does well to portray the three leads as recklessly human — empathetic, fragile and, at times, wholly unbearable. The film is infused with moments of intense vulnerability, like when Queen Anne tearfully reveals that each of her 17 pet rabbits memorializes a child she has lost over the years; Or when Sarah threatens to blackmail the queen by releasing letters detailing their affair, only to burn them later in regret.
Signature of his many other films, Lanthimos implores an air of eccentricity in The Favourite, providing a much-needed freshness to the period drama genre. And what is lost in historical inaccuracy is entirely made up for in deadpan humour and the unforgettable use of the phrase ‘cuntstruck’ (a line perfectly delivered by Nicholas Hoult’s character, a Tory Member of Parliament named Robert Harley).
The film subverts the typical period drama formula in a number of ways, as the leading women spend their time drinking, taking charge in politics and shooting guns, while the men — heavily clad in wigs and makeup — fade quietly into the background.
And for a movie that revolves around a love triangle between three women, there is little shock or surprise at the element of their sexuality. The film’s complete normalisation of lesbianism is absolutely glorious. Lanthimos understands and makes clear that this is far from the most interesting aspect of the women’s fiercely complicated relationship.
With stellar performances, incredible dialogue and seamless direction, The Favourite creates a rich, nuanced view of the best and worst that human relationships have to offer. The exploration of love, power, manipulation and revenge within this film is one likely to be remembered for years to come.
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