The Favourite is probably our favourite movie of 2018. This sparkling feminist period dramedy set in England at the beginning of the 18th Century has an outrageous plot loosely based on historical figures of the time which makes for such a glorious tale of jealousy and intrigue that is a feast for one’s ears and eyes.
At the center of it all is Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) who is weakened by her bad health, particularly her gout, and is very dependent on Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) who is the de-facto monarch as she literally controls everything the Queen says and does. She is also the Queen’s lover and uses this intimacy as a means to keep the Queen in check as much as possible.
The Queen is lonely and childless having had 17 stillborn births and miscarriages (there is no mention at all of her husband in this drama) and her only solace, besides the Duchess, are the 17 pet rabbits that share her bedroom.
Suddenly into the extravagent lifestyle of Court appears Abigail (Emma Stone) who is a cousin of the Duchess whose family have fallen on hard times and is now destitute. She is employed as a lowly servant but manages to create some attention for herself when a herbal concoction she creates eases the Queen’s gout.
Now elevated to being the Duchess’s personal maid, this makes her privy to some of the very intimate activity of the Queen’s bedchamber, and very soon she is plotting to usurp the Duchess’s position in and out of the queen’s bed.
Now the two cousins become mortal enemies and both deviously scheme to make sure they defeat their rival and become the Queen’s favorite. In a glorious spiky and witty script from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara the plot positively sizzles with delicious intrigue and double-dealing with this two ambitious women scheming for the patronage of their eccentric and unstable monarch.
It’s so rare to see a movie like this that has not one, but three, really meaty roles for women and that the three talented actresses more than rise to the occasion. Coleman perfectly captures the unbalanced Queen and her massive mood swings that unhinge the Court. She is beautifully matched my Weisz as the machiavellian Duchess who has already wrangled a Palace as a gift from the Queen and is determined to hang on to the reins of power which she thinks are rightly hers. Stone uses her wiles as the younger suitor who may be more inexperienced in playing power games, but soon learns how to successfully out play her elders.
Expertly directed by Oscar nominated Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos this is by far his most accessible movie to date. It’s sexy, risque and undeniably funny. He takes full advantage of not just his electrifying cast delivering a brilliant script, but the extravagent baroque setting of Hatfield House that is standing in for the Queen’s palace. Visually stunning in every sense, there is such a wealth of wonderful footage that it is a film that demands to be seen more than once.
And yes there are men involved particularly those running the Government and away fighting the way, but in this case they are only there to do the women’s bidding.