Review: The Favourite

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Nominated for 10 Oscars including Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Acting and Costume Design
The Favourite is showing at the Historic Theater March 2 – March 7. 

In the early 18th century, Anne is Queen of England. She is ill with bouts of severe gout that leave her partially immobile and generally unpleasant. Her friend since childhood and secret lover Lady Marlborough cares for her and helps to run the country along with the friendship and ear of the Prime Minister. The country is at war with France but is in at a difficult point where they must decide whether to sue for peace or increase taxes to fight more battles. At this time, we meet Abigail Hill, cousin to Lady Marlborough who was once high class but has since lost her place. She arrives seeking employment and soon wins the trust of not just the Queen but also the political opposition leader, creating intense competition for the queen’s favor and the future of the country. What results is mudslinging and vicious attacks to win an unstable queen’s love.

The film is unlike any you will see this year. It is a historical black comedy seeping with absurdity that shifts tones at the blink of an eye. One moment you are watching a historical drama, and then it becomes a farce, then a romance. Lanthimos has a very particular style that usually involves a theme of power and greed, animals, unsettling soundtracks, and editing. What made The Favourite a little different for me were the characters. There is something completely beautiful and tragic in Olivia Coleman’s perfect portrayal of a deeply unhappy and traumatized queen who is in constant pain and behaves like a child simply because she can. She is a pawn to everyone’s plan and is the only sincere person in this story. You can feel her trauma when she introduces Abigail to her “babies”: 17 adorable rabbits, named for each of her 17 dead children. Rachel Weisz’s Lady Marlborough is harsh and cruel at times but seems to be the brains of the kingdom and perhaps the only person who really is able to care for Anne. Her love is completely true even while she schemes and rules Anne with an iron fist. When Anne insists she heard someone call her “fat,” Marlborough responds with “Only I would dare and I didn’t.” Emma Stone’s Abigail Hill arrives appearing as a bright-eyed ingénue only to show her claws and resort to poisoning in an effort to restore her rank and secure her place next to Anne. The women are beautifully complex while the men are merely playthings. This is not the dynamic most audiences are used to and it’s a bit refreshing.

People enjoy watching the lengths others will go to destroy someone else. We see it time and time again and this is no different. The audience eats up the vile treatment between Abigail and Marlborough. This is not a film that will be enjoyed by everyone. Some people will see the brilliance of a gout-ridden Queen Anne eating cake, vomiting into a bucket, and immediately going back for more cake while others will be completely perplexed. Even if the story is a bit over your head, every audience member can take something away from viewing. They can watch for the powerhouse performances of Coleman, Weisz, and Stone. They can watch for Sandy Powell’s intricate costumes and Nadia Stacey’s perfectly ridiculous wigs and makeup. There are moments to laugh and enjoy and moments to cringe and cover your eyes. This film might make you very uncomfortable and you just might love it.