There’s just something so unimaginably delicious about wallowing in excess…
While The Favourite will NOT be for everyone, it really is a wet dream of seething black comedy that will leave you feeling a little gross, but eagerly clambering for more of these horrible people doing even more horrible things to one another in the hopes of claiming and retaining any kind of power and/or social status they may have.
It’s early 18th century and England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the Queen’s companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfill her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.
Yorgos Lanthimos has never been a filmmaker to shy away from pushing the occasional button and here with The Favourite we get a downright scathing comedy of manners that shifts its focus to the halls of power to remind us all how much absolute power with corrupt absolutely.
Lanthimos and his films are often a required taste, and that is no different here as we see a magnificently bawdy effort that removes the nonsense and twaddle of the pomp and circumstance from the era and gets us down to the nitty gritty of why we as a species are capable of doing what we do in order to have some power and some preference over others. He deftly hands over screenwriting duties to Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara who give us a slice of period drama that is so perfectly married with dark and brooding satire that we are in immediate acceptance of how goddamn brilliant this whole thing actually is. The dialogue and plot machinations are razor sharp from beginning to end which allows Lanthimos as a director to genuinely play with his surroundings allowing the grand halls of power and the candlelit bedrooms to feel one in the same where genuine control over others was legitimately bartered over like two sheep’s and a barrel of carrots at a local market.
On top of allowing the truly nasty (and occasionally campy) side of the period to come shining through, this film also makes a pretty strong statement on the issues of women and power and how knowingly cunning and devious they had to be in order to hold on to anything that they had in a world domineered by the stink of men. It was never merely about surviving for these women in power, they had to be thriving…and have a hunger for it that could surpass any man standing in their way. As much as Lanthimos crafts this deliciously bitchy world for us, it simply could not have come alive if not for the performances of some brilliant leading ladies.
In what will ultimately serve as an awkward precursor to her upcoming turn in hit TV show The Queen; Olivia Colman deftly tears down the image of beauty and power going side by side and makes it as ugly as all hell. Her Queen Anne is an insecure, drooling mess who screams as much as she eats while still wanting deep down to be loved; perhaps a little more then was socially acceptable at the time by her confidant and “special friend” Lady Sarah who is played with aplomb by Rachel Weisz. She commands the screen from minute one and is very much an equal to the men who are vying for her influence and power over the queen. Weisz is a stone cold bitch in the roll and she absolutely has to be in order to hang on to the influence that she craves while her husband is to and from various wars, never around to help satisfy her desire to climb and maintain the highest of social ranks that she can, which is of course all going swimmingly until Emma Stone’s Abigail falls out of carriage, into a pile of horse shit and into their lives. Her Abigail knew status and power until it was torn away from her through the careless acts of her drunkard of a father who treated her as more of a commodity then a daughter. The only way she knows is to look upwards to her ‘betters’ and do anything she can to get there. Even if it means stepping on the likes of Weisz character who in a moment of weakness showed her a way up and didn’t not treat her like the worthy adversary in search of power that she truly was. This is easily some of the best material that all three of these wonderful actresses have had in years and have all taken to Golden Globe Nominations and if they all end up going home empty handed it will be an out and out crime.
When all is said and done, The Favourite is a deliciously bitter affair that you’ll not only laugh out loud at but want to take a shower after having experienced it in all its glory as it really is one of the best (if not the best) films of the year.