‘The Favourite’ review: Elegant spoof on period piece

‘The Favourite’ director Yorgos Lanthimos beautifully crafted a film that shows three remarkable women twisted in different ways.

The Favourite is set in the early 18th century where England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time-consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the Queen’s companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfill her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics (or rabbit) stand in her way.

The film highlights the emptiness and lovelessness of chasing human power and control. Abigail uses covert passive-aggressive tactics to chase human power, whilst Sarah uses overt control and aggression to gain human power and control in the political court in favor of her husband’s position as the leader of the Britain army. However, the final scene brings home the emptiness of the power game that all three women are engaged in, as Queen Anne finally realizes that both Sarah and Abigail have used her to gain human power in some form. In many ways, it’s an elegant take on the evils behind power, politics, manipulation and ambiguity in pursuing richness. Not pretty, at times, but it is real, well-acted, and demonstrates the fragility of human power and control.

What is refreshing about this film is that it only focuses on Queen Anne and its maids – Abigail and Sarah. The men add a little bit of texture, but this is about the rather unusual love triangle among three women. It feels so fresh that there are times you forget it is set in the 18th century. This is the film for those who are looking for entertainment, stellar performances and great direction. Adding up adultery, violence, blackmail, and sex, this film has it all and a lot more to offer. You’ll be hard-pressed to pick a favourite out of the three leading actresses.

The gradual evolution of the three main characters and the story is beautifully crafted. Olivia Coleman and Rachel Weisz deliver performances that are pitch perfect, falling in line with the often-absurdist tone of the film yet nonetheless strikingly emotional. While Emma Stone beautifully portrays a character that you can root for and despise in turns. Peppered alongside them is a wonderful supporting cast, including a scene-stealing Nicholas Hoult and all manner of extras that work as fuel for pleasure at the hands of the leads.

The victory of this film is that it does not feed you the story; it lets you interpret it in your own way. It’s brilliant how Lanthimos gives everything right on the screen, but it is still not all. The film is complete when viewers add their own understanding. It is just brilliant.

The Favourite is by far one of Lanthimos’ greatest films. Taking a real historical figure, his unique directing style and a script full of memorable lines capped off with remarkable performances by Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. Very enjoyable from beginning to end, it moves slow almost intentionally to pause and give you time to fully understand why and what is going on. Perfectly-timed jokes and silly physical humor also counter-balance the sinister goings-on among people making you realize that this film is both royally fun and entertaining.

Overall, it is a brilliant piece unlike anything you’ve seen before. A masterclass in directing, editing, and acting, The Favourite is a must-see with a very strong ending for it provides so much ‘silent’ talking in our hearts – giving all the meaning of the film in one scene.

4 out of 5 stars
‘The Favourite’ is produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures, Film4, and Waypoint. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, and starring Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weiz, Emma Stone, Joe Alwyn, and Nicholas Hoult. Runtime 119 minutes

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