The Favourite is a quirky, intellectual and often bawdy comedy about a female
rivalry for power in the court of Queen Anne. This delightful romp does a superb
job at exploring the connection between sexual politics and power as it wickedly
mocks royal excess and eccentricity.
The film has generated near unanimous critical acclaim and multiple Golden Globe
nominations including Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, Best actress (for
Olivia Coleman) and Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone), but the overlooked
third lead performance by Rachel Weisz is just as good. The film was made by
Yorgos Lanthimos, a very unconventional and promising newer Greek director who
always makes bizarre, inexplicable films that are hard to explain or sum up in a
preview. He made Dogtooth (2010) a film about a father who keeps his offspring
prisoners in an effort to keep them at the level of children; Alps (2011) in
which people impersonate deceased people in front of their grieving family
members; The Lobster (2015) set in a dystopian society in which people become
animals if they cannot find a mate; and Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) in which
a man must kill a member of his own family to avoid his own death.
In The Favourite, Olivia Coleman is hilarious playing a perpetually tortured
Queen Anne who has endless physical and psychological ailments. The queen only
finds relief when her servants rub her feet and provide other physical services
She lost thirteen children to death so she adopted 13 rabbits that she can
nurture instead. The rabbits hop around constantly and they are everywhere. This
is the first film I have seen that may cause people to have nightmares about
bunnies (one of the most significant scenes in the film is a rabbit dream).
Abigail (played by the always charming Emma Stone) is a former aristocrat who
has fallen on hard times. She has fallen so low she must work as a cutlery maid
even though she seems smarter and better educated than many in the royal family.
When Abigail first comes to the castle, the cinematographer, Robert Ryan
effectively uses fish eye lenses and off kilter angles to make the royal palace
seem as monstrous and alien as any Sci-Fi locale. Ryan’s inventive work in these
scenes of opulent horror may be worthy of an Oscar nomination.
Right away Abigail gets into a conflict with Lady Sarah (played by the often
marvelous Rachel Weisz) who uses S & M to control the queen and steer her
politics (in their sexcapes the two switch roles and the queen becomes the
servant). Sarah is the main one who gets the queen into an unpopular war with
France. But Abigail slowly gains favor with the queen and ends up being her
preferred companion. Part of the reason maybe that she seems to genuinely like
Sarah is used to being the belle of the ball, and begins to threaten Abigail to
back off from the queen. During a shooting lesson she warns Abigail that
sometimes guns accidentally go off and shoot people.
The two women are like opposites. Abigail acts sweet and demure around the queen
and wins her over with caresses while Sarah attracts her with violence,
domination and name calling (she repeatedly refers to the queen as a lowly
badger). But underneath her veneer Abigail also displays a Machiavellian
Her normally attractive co-star Rachel Weisz shows courage for allowing herself
to be shot in makeup which makes her ugly and the most unflattering camera
angles possible. You can understand why the queen eventually responds more to
Abigail’s not completely unselfish, kindness and compassion which sets up an
intensifying final conflict.
Although the film is extremely erotic, amusing and absorbing, it never quite
rises to the level of its director’s previous masterpiece, The Lobster. But the
relationships between the three female protagonists is wholly original and
fascinating. The film may be too weird, kinky, and darkly humorous for some
audience members but I had a terrific time. Just don’t bring the kids.