The Favourite (2018)

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There is a fine line between black comedy and satire, but blended well, the result is both funny and biting. The period comedy-drama The Favourite (2018)is another timely reminder that, from the hallowed halls of monarchy to the corridors of presidential rule, life at the top is never what it seems.

We know from previous absurdist works like The Lobster and The Killing of a SacredDeer that the Yorgos Lanthimos approach to British history was never going to be conventional. Set in the 18thcentury reign of Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman), The Favourite is a portrait of a monarch who today would be diagnosed as psychotic depressive. Her lesbian lover and principal court advisor Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) makes all the key palace and parliamentary decisions while the queen struggles with gout and alcoholism, ruminating over her seventeen pet rabbits that substitute for her seventeen dead children. With Britain and France at war, this is not the time to have a dysfunctional monarch. Then along comes a cousin of Sarah’s, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) who has fallen on hard times and in need of rescue. Initially given the most menial of work and lodging, Abigail’s cunning survival skills see her slip into the queen’s favour to soon displace Sarah as the royal favourite in court and bed.

With a simple linear storyline loosely based on history, narrative is not the drawcard of this film. What makes it stand out from the vast field of British period drama is outstanding performances from the three female principals, a clever script, and sumptuous set and costume design. Coleman’s performance of the imperiously vulnerable and erratic Queen Anne is superb, while Weisz and Stone are brilliant in their courtly pretensions and cat-fights over the Queen’s favour.

Like so much of the Lanthimos style, the visuals are exaggeratedly lavish, colourful, and large. The camera frequently resorts to a fish-eye lens which dwarfs the actors as if to remind us that even those who sit on thrones are mere specks in the cosmos of history. The dialogue is tuned for comedic impact and laced with contemporary f-bombs and other sexualised references to the royal personage. The script chooses funny over faithful at the cost of seriousness, but a hilarious royal dance scene unmistakably stamps mockery all over this court.

This is a thoroughly entertaining film, brilliantly acted, and dominated by complex and ambitious women. Its contribution to our understanding of history lies in showing us yet again the frailty and fickleness behind the masks of power.


Director:  Yorgos Lanthimos

Stars:  Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone