COMIC DRAMA; 2hr
STARRING: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz
Hair apparent: Stone (left) and Colman
With his last two movies, 2015’s The Lobster and 2017’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer, director Yorgos Lanthimos had his off-the-wall way with Theatre of the Absurd. In the dark sparkler The Favourite, he turns that virtuoso slant on a loosey-goosey rendering 18th-century England and the viperish court of an erratic Queen Anne (Colman). Nakedly insecure, gouty of foot, devoted to her 17 rabbits and largely wheelchair-bound, this Queen is a petulant, overgrown child. Her fixated dependence on her childhood friend, current lover and overall right hand, Lady Sarah Churchill (Weisz), is the central motif of her unhealthily cloistered life.
While England battles France, and Whigs and Tories bicker and snipe between banquets and duck races in a dandified tizz of poisonous decadence, a new scullery maid arrives at court. Abigail Hill (Stone) is Anne’s ingratiating cousin, come upon hard times after a family bankruptcy. Ambitious and devious, she’s prepared to go to any lengths to get what she wants—and what she really, really wants, while Sarah does a kick-ass job of effectively running the country, is to replace her in the Queen’s affections.
Centuries may have passed since the real Anne, Sarah and Abigail ruled the Stuart roost, but as Lanthimos is keenly aware, the vagaries of human nature remain a constant. With his leading ladies tearing tooth and nail into the spicy survivalist intrigue of Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s screenplay, Sarah and Abigail’s fermenting rivalries and malevolent jockeying are still rapier-fresh—and a lavish eyeful, thanks to Fiona Crombie’s lushly gilded production design. Wave bye-bye to the drag of facts! This is the period film you make when you’ve unlaced your corsets and tossed the Shalt Not rule book deep into the nearest moat.