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A Review Of "The Favourite:" "A Supremely Cynical And Enjoyable Comedy Of Royal Manners"

Reviving the historical drama with untold viciousness, deadpan irony, and unabashed humor is Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. With 10 Oscar nominations (only Roma has as many), it’s easy to see why this raucous comedy of ambition and ill manners won so much favor with Academy voters—for above all, it’s a stupendous acting vehicle; with the troika of Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone leaving us gasping for superlatives.


Set in the early 18th century, the period film revolves around the tumultuous reign of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman); more than ably supported by her best friend and confidante Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). The twist in the plot occurs when Lady Sarah’s cousin, the fallen upon hard times Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), appears and seeks employment at the Palace. For Director Yorgos Lanthimos, this is a vivid and raucous reimagining of historical events. Far from being prissy, elegant and formal, as we would expect from period films depicting royalty; this is nasty fun, perhaps historically inaccurate, but a supremely cynical and enjoyable comedy of royal manners. 


With vanity reigning and a sense of the absurd, we’re taken on a wild journey of affairs of the state and of the flesh. Apparently, the screenplay was born from the minor historical footnote of Queen Anne appointing a former chambermaid to Keeper of the Privy Purse, said Abigail Hill Masham. And from that footnote, we’re given this masterful treatise about ambition, shifting allegiances, and power. What is fascinating to note is how in an era of patriarchy, these women could be just as scheming, conniving, and manipulative as any of the men who roamed the Palace. It’s the classic protégée turns rival situation; but from the Director of The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, it also transforms to a deft and cunning character study of three very interesting and contrasting women.

Suffering from gout, obese and childless, Queen Anne is given a masterful portrayal by Olivia Colman. At times imperious and demanding, at other moments insecure, childlike, and troubled, Colman gives us a Queen Anne that’s psychologically crippled but thrust into a position of great power. I loved the scene at the Palace ball when with no dialogue, but just shifting facial expressions, a whole gamut of emotions are etched on her visage, and we see her lash out and call a halt to the celebration. That she’s up for Best Actress at theOscars is only just.



#TheFavourite 2018 #NYFF Opening Night Film Photo Credit: Yorgos Lanthimos

A post shared by The Favourite (@thefavouritemovie) on

Rachel as the conniving, scheming Lady Sarah is herself a masterful creation—taking the reins from the Queen when needed and directing affairs of the State to her own advantage. You will love how she reacts and creates scenarios of her own device when the usurper rears her head. And Emma’s Abigail is brilliant—earthy, ribald yet deceiving and sly, she takes no prisoners in her drive to reclaim lost glory and status. That the two are both in the Best Supporting Actress race is well-deserved, but unfortunately will mean both end up empty. 

This revisionist, women-centric film treatment of a period drama is not new in itself. We’ve had Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and Elizabeth starring Cate Blanchett in the past, and 2018 also gave us Mary, Queen of Scots. But owing more to black comedies such as The Madness of King GeorgeThe Favourite is one rollicking historical/hysterical adventure that celebrates a world where the dark hearts of women rule, and men are mere stepping stones and pawns—and in the #MeToo era, it’s good to have a film that echoes that sentiment, but dripping with irony!


Photos from @thefavouritemovie