Since I’m just a simple American, I couldn’t be asked to care even one iota about the British Royal family. I find monarchies to be incredibly antiquated and practically useless now, especially to me, as they don’t have much effect over here. That doesn’t mean their history isn’t fascinating, though. For a system that’s been around for hundreds of years and with dozens of rulers, it’s all ripe for exploration into the human condition and how power can affect us. Sometimes we may even hear a story that many don’t know of at all. 

In 1708, the British Empire is at war with France, with Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) sitting on the throne. She clearly doesn’t care much about her royal duties, indulging more in vapid entertainment and gorging herself with sweets. Her adviser Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) does most of the actual ruling, often claiming to speak for the Queen and executing her will. When Sarah’s younger cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives at the palace for employment, she quickly falls into the favor of Queen Anne. Sarah doesn’t take kindly to his and thus begins a rivalry vying for the Queen’s attention and acceptance. Who will become The Favourite

I’m not too familiar with director Yorgos Lanthimos’ work, but from all accounts, he’s a very deliberate and particular filmmaker, and you can feel that in every shot here. There’s a lot of wide angles and fish eyes lenses and I mean a lot. It honestly got a bit distracting at times, especially with the fish eye lenses, because they seemed to clash with the time period. I half-expected a skateboarding Parliament member to roll across the screen. However, while it is at times distracting, the framing all does an excellent job at conveying the loneliness the characters feel. The story mostly takes place inside Queen Anne’s castle and on the outer ground, so there’s a lot of negative space utilized, showing just how empty and hollow all of this beauty is. The lighting is gorgeous, being very naturalistic, and I especially loved some of the scenes shrouded in complete darkness, with only a candle illuminating the characters. Some of the daytime shots throughout the palace are also gorgeous, often evoking the sense of a Baroque painting.

You can’t just count on direction and cinematography alone to give you that lonely feeling, but you need the right actors, and what we have here is a perfectly cast film. Lanthimos said he was very particular about casting this project and he knocked it out of the park. Olivia Colman is mesmerizing, commanding the screen with a queenly presence, but also commanding it with her frequent outbursts and hysterical behavior. Queen Anne here is woefully insecure, plagued with health issues and constantly mulling over other’s feelings about here, never really feeling fully in command. But of course, everyone bows and fawns over her, because that’s what you do with the Queen. Information about her past is revealed throughout, showing her to be a very tragic and sad character that really shows through her frantic personality. These mental health issues are of course sad to see, but they’re also played with some comedy, such as when she yells at hapless servants. How can you not laugh when Colman screams at a group of children playing instruments to bugger off? 

There’s actually quite a bit of dark comedy here, mostly courtesy of the dialogue. I never, ever thought I would laugh so hard at a rape joke, but hey, good comedy is good comedy. Abigail and Sarah’s rivalry also adds to the humor. It’s the main conflict of the film and it’s deliciously entertaining watching them connive and manipulate their way to the Queen’s favor. Their performances are more understated than Colman’s, but Weisz’ steely disposition and Stone’s charms are a great contrast with Colman, and one another. The two women are opposite in personality, but just as malicious when it comes to getting their way. Their constant banter is quite hilarious, both being equally as witty and alternating on getting the upper hand on each other. Lanthimos and screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara definitely love the word “cunt”, that’s for sure. 

I’m sure there were some embellishments taken here and there, but Lanthimos, Davis, and McNamara do craft a compelling regular character drama. However, I felt all of the other story elements to be lacking. The backdrop to the film is Britain’s war with France, where Queen Anne clearly doesn’t care or know about anything that’s going on, while Sarah really does all of the ruling. It’s interesting political intrigue and there are some interesting twists and turns. There’s also a romantic subplot with Abigail and Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer (Nicholas Hoult) which also took away from the main focus for me. While these are important elements to the overall story, I just loved the rivalry and relationship triangle between the women so much, that I wanted it back on screen at any point possible. 

A terrifically regal musical score, production design, costumes, hairstyling, and makeup all just perfect the historical British feeling, but The Favourite isn’t your typical historical drama. A lot of films about the Royals deify them or put them on a pedestal, just like a lot of people do, but you won’t be getting anything like that here. Everybody here is nasty and cares about nobody else but themselves, but that seems to be par for course when it comes to monarchy and royalty. It’s twisted, clever, and above all else, entertaining. At least that’s one thing the Royals can provide us yanks. 


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