Review by LL Soares
Yorgos Lanthimos is an unusual director. His best-known films include DOGTOOTH (2009) about a strange family where the children are not allowed to leave their house; THE LOBSTER (2015) starring Colin Farrell as a man who has 45 days to find someone to marry, or he will be turned into the title creature; and THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2017) with Farrell, again, this time as a doctor who has to pay a gruesome price for losing one of his patients on the operating table. As you can tell, his films have a dark, surreal bent, which has made him one of the most interesting filmmakers of the last few years. With each film, his audience grows. And with his most recent film, THE FAVOURITE (2018), that audience will grow larger still, especially since the movie has been winning lots of awards and getting some Oscar buzz.
But the strangest thing about THE FAVOURITE is its storyline, which sounds absolutely normal compared to his other work. A historical drama about real people, with some dark humor thrown in (a Lanthimos staple), the film is about Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman), who ruled England in the early 1700s (from 1702 to 1707), and her closest advisor, Sarah Churchill (Winston was one of her descendants) played by Rachel Weisz. They dynamic changes considerably when Sarah’s cousin, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) arrives at the palace, looking for employment.
Either due to her ill health or long history of tragedy (she had lost 17 children over the years), Anne is a bit “off,” (perhaps eccentric would be a better description), acting almost child-like with her inability to focus on matters of state, her regular temper tantrums, and her impetuous manner. This behavior makes it fairly easy for Sarah, her confidant, to take over the job of running the country, and she does the job well. The members of parliament (all male) obviously aren’t pleased with having to gain favor with a woman, but they understand the hierarchy, and the fact that to get the queen’s approval, they must first get Sarah’s, making her the most powerful (non-royal) woman in England.
A typical day for the Queen includes having lobsters complete in a race before being eaten, and playing with her 17 rabbits, which are stand-ins for her children which she had miscarried, or which died soon after birth.
Abigail was once a lady, but has fallen on hard times, due mostly to the gambling debts of her father. She has come to the Queen’s household for a job as a maid, and immediately the other servants play tricks on her to put her in her place. It’s not long, however, before Sarah takes her young relative under her wing as her assistant. Abigail no longer has to scrub floors, and is able to watch her formidable cousin in action.
During a period where Sarah and the Queen are having a falling out, Abigail tends to the Queen’s demands instead, and in turn gets closer to the monarch. And then it becomes a competition to see who will be the Queen’s favorite, a role Sarah is determined to keep and Abigail is just as eager to usurp.
The strength of the film lies squarely on its three leads. Olivia Coleman who was the hotel manager in Lanthimos’ THE LOBSTER, as well as in Edgar Wright’s HOT FUZZ (2007), and perhaps most memorably as D.S. Ellie Miller, the partner of David Tennant’s Detective Alec Hardy in the excellent British series, BROADCHURCH (2013 – 2017), is brilliant here as Queen Anne, playing the role with a constant see-saw of high self-regard (she is the queen, after all) and low self-esteem (she’s also incredibly volatile). She is the heart of the film, and rises to the occasion.
Rachel Weisz (in everything from THE MUMMY, 1999, to Neil LaBute’s THE SHAPE OF THINGS, to THE LOBSTER) is the seemingly indomitable Lady Sarah, the Queen’s confidante and her strong, political voice. Where the Queen is confused and indecisive when it comes to political matters, Sarah is quite capable. And she’s just as determined to keep her position as the Queen’s right hand, resorting to constant attention, and even sex, to keep the monarch in line.
Emma Stone (EASY A, 2010, BIRDMAN, 2014, and LA LA LAND, 2016) is equally a force a nature as Abigail, who first seems innocent and sympathetic when she joins the household, but who proves herself to be as crafty and merciless as her cousin. She covets Sarah’s life and is determined to take it for her own by gaining the Queen’s favor.
The men who surround them as a mix of cads, opportunists, and fools, including James Smith (also in THE IRON LADY, 2011) as Sidney Godolphin, who leads the majority in parliament, and minority leader Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult, also in WARM BODIES and JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, both 2013, and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, 2015), who claims to speak for the people, but who clearly has his own ambitions at the fore.
The look and feel of the film are marvelous, and the script, by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, is strong and often witty. I enjoyed this one a lot, and totally agree with the praise it’s been getting. If you’re a fan or either historical dramas or Yorgos Lanthimos films, you need to check this out.
I give it four knives.
© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares
LL Soares gives THE FAVOURITE ~ four knives