A trio of bold performances carries the striking look and bawdy humor of The Favourite, the latest effort from visionary filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. Set in the early 18th century, it takes considerable historical liberties with its Queen and her subjects. It’s all in the service of a semi tragic comedy with the three leads seeking to hold and attain power.
Olivia Colman is Queen Anne, increasingly sickly and dependent on closest advisor Sarah (Rachel Weisz). A war with France is raging and Sarah deftly moves to provide strategic advice. Other than the 17 rabbits she keeps as pets, the Queen typically has that audience of one. That’s until Abigail (Emma Stone), a cousin of Sarah’s, arrives in the luscious grounds to seek employment and eventually stake her claim as a confidante. Her scheming succeeds. This sets up a love triangle and an ever evolving quest for Anne’s affections.
The men in these women’s lives are largely disposable. Harley (Nicholas Hoult) is a thorn on their sides as the politician undermines war efforts and serves as Abigail’s co-conspirator when it fits her needs. Samuel (Joe Alwyn) has social standing important enough for Abigail to take him as a husband and accentuate her lifestyle. They’re tolerated.
This is a period piece that is anything but stuffy. If anything, it’s positively randy in its exploration of sex and greed. From its costume and production design and cinematography, this is a gorgeous looking picture.
Colman has the most dynamic part of the three. Sad and vulnerable and unwell, she’s still the ultimate actor to wield dominance and she never forgets it. While Abigail is more myopic in her thirst for influence, Sarah’s royal connection is a bit more complicated and compelling. Weisz makes the most of her layered role.
The Favourite is short of great, but it is a feast for the eyes about people whose eyes are permanently fixed on their proximity to the throne.
***1/2 (out of four)