I have no idea if the England’s early 18th-century Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) had lesbionic tendencies. I have no idea if her right-hand bestie Lady Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, was as scathingly hot as Rachel Weisz. And who knows if Sarah’s cousin Abigail was as much a mover and schemer as she is portrayed by the very funny Emma Stone. But my goodness, to see these three characters play a somewhat violent, crass, and often sexy game of chess against each other is a complete and total treat when you have Colman, Weisz, and Stone playing off each other.
Queen Anne is rather sickly, and perhaps a bit of a fool, relying on her relationship with Lady Sarah, a childhood pal and the obvious brains behind the crown. The hapless men of the Parliament jostle for favor with the Queen, but it is clear that the “favourite” is Sarah, the puppeteer ruler of the land. But then in comes her cousin Abigail, who has fallen from grace with the family. Sarah throws her a bone, letting her start as a lowly maid in the giant royal house, but Abigail soon turns on her charms first to Sarah, then to the Queen, slowly raising her stature until she finds herself the favored one, much to Sarah’s shock and displeasure.
I’d say that a catfight ensues, but that would be too dismissive and sexist. Sarah and Abigail scheme, plot, and sabotage to gain/regain favor with their queen, while the queen herself is bemused, confused, and as much in on the games as she is completely out if it–in her own world of frustration, grief, and dismay.
As this is a film by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite is unsurprisingly a little weird. Some scenes are bizarrely shot with a fish-eye lens; modern language is thrown into the mix, which somehow doesn’t prove distracting; and there is even a duck race that goes on lovingly a bit long. A would-be seduction scene ends up being more like wrestling, and, to its credit, Queen Anne’s eccentric quirks (like having 17 pet rabbits, one for each of her dead children) are played for laughs, but also garner sympathy, due in no small part to the outstanding performance by Olivia Colman. The Queen may be world weary, and is being played, but she is well aware of what is going on. She just may not give a shit.
If you are expecting a proper costume drama, The Favourite ain’t it. But if you have been craving a costume drama that is more like a hot woman kicking you in the teeth, well, you may have found it.
The behind-the-scenes featurette “The Favourite: Unstitching the Costume Drama” is the usual love fest between actors, director and crew. For instance, sweetheart Olivia Colman says that Emma Stone’s British accent was perfect (I often wonder about those things!). Most interesting, I thought, were the insights into the sometimes odd/unusual camerawork. The notable use of the fish-eye lens was to create the effect of a small person in a very large (palatial, you might say) place. There was also the choice to use natural light as much as possible, with the harsh white light coming through windows, for instance. But this was also put to great effect in the memorable dance scene where, in the close-up of Olivia Colman’s face, you can see the reflections of a dozen candles. There are also a few minor, throwaway deleted scenes, as well as the trailer included.