The Favourite is a phenomenal tale of political maneuvering, jealousy, and general debauchery. Director Yorgos Lathimos brings his signature sense of blunt, abrasive humor and paints a wicked portrait of two women vying for the influence and affection of the Queen, and the film relishes in the political and personal games played at the heart of England’s capital. Every technical element of the film is perfectly nuanced and the purposefully overbearing score is used brilliantly to accentuate the lavish styles of these royals who turn out to be petty, petulant children.
Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) rules over England under the heavy influence of her loyal lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), an overbearing and aggressive woman who practically rules on Anne’s behalf and conducts political affairs. When Churchill’s cousin, the seemingly sweet Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) arrives at the palace in search of work, she gains the affection of the Queen, leading to a bitter and dirty standoff between the cousins.
It’s difficult to determine who gives the best performance in the film, but all three leading ladies do phenomenal work. Colman is able to make the Queen into a sad, pathetic figure who’s humorous in her eccentricities, yet revolting in her gross incompetence. Weisz is perfect as a politically savvy and forceful older cousin, but I was really impressed with Stone’s journey from a sweet peasant to masterful seductress and manipulator who gains confidence and influence as the tensions rise (Stone, an American, also masters the accent!). I’ll also give a shout out to Nicholas Hoult, who does some of the best work of his career as a shrewd politician who enlists Stone to achieve his goals of ending the war; Joe Alwyn is also fun as a hapless dolt infatuated with Stone.
Lanthimos’s visual style is clearly meant to emulate the portrait style conceptions we have of the 1705 British Monarch, and he crafts a beautifully lit film that uses suppressed colors to make the gross depiction of wealth even more disgusting; there’s also some wonderful scenes featuring of blackness highlighted only by candles, which highlight the film’s seediest and most sensual moments. When the more traditional steady camerawork is broken, we’re treated with some very interesting dolly work that gives the film the burst of energy it needs in all the right moments. The cuts are often harsh and deliberate, and the sharp breaks between scenes do a great job in accenting tonal shifts and aiding the comedy.
The first half of the film is a frequently hilarious comedy that sees characters outdoing their opponents, vying for influence, and relishing in their own wit, and it’s the rare form of comedy where we’re dazzled by the audacity whilst never feeling sympathetic to the characters. As the film goes on, the sad reality and consequences of these games are revealed, and the character arcs are also completed in ways that are justified by their actions. It’s a marvelous character piece, rich with humor, and accessible in the simplicity of these characters’ desires, yet nuanced in it’s oddness. The Favourite is a masterpiece on every level. Grade: A+