Set in 18th century England during a war with France, The Favourite stars Emma Stone as Abigail Hill and Rachel Weisz as her cousin Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. Through cunning and trickery the two try to win the favor of Anne, Queen of Britain played by Olivia Colman. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, the movie is a revenge comedy featuring an intriguing story, strong performances from its entire cast, some of the wittiest dialogue of the year.
The Favourite is filled with strong performances. Stone is fantastic in the role of Abigail. The seemingly righteous Abigail was born into money, but has since fallen on hard times. When we first meet the former lady, a man masturbates in front of her before pushing her in a pool of suspiciously odd smelling mud. She is almost mouselike in her actions and has an innocent look in her eyes. It is impossible for the audience to not feel for her as they see everything she is forced to endure.
As The Favourite continues and Abigail starts to reveal a different (and truer?) side of herself, Stone changes with her character. The incorruptibility that inspired pity from the audience is replaced with a malice that provokes fear. Abigail is treacherous and far more intelligent than she lets on and Stone plays the part perfectly. From the faraway look in her eyes as she plots to her curt cadence, there is never any doubt as to what type of person Abigail is. She may be the most frightening character of the year.
Weisz does an equally excellent job as Sarah. Much like Abigail, Sarah goes through a change over the course of The Favourite. Unlike her cousin, when the audience first meets Sarah she is in a position of vast power. Anne may be Queen, but it is Sarah who is the true voice of England.
Over the course of The Favourite, much is revealed about the lifelong friendship between Sarah and Anne. While the Duchess of Marlborough’s hardened demeanor never completely goes away there are many moments when she shows her softer side. Sarah is a well rounded character filled with pride, insecurities, and flaws. She is inspiring and terrifying at the same time.
Sarah’s multi dimensional character gives Weisz a chance to show off her acting range. Sarah has no problem standing up to earls, the Prime Minister, and even the Queen herself. Her strength of character is admirable though it is hard not to question her motivations. Still, in Sarah’s more sensitive moments, the audience cannot help but feel for her. She is a friend who truly cares. Though she is thoroughly caught up in the political machinations of the English court, it is clear Sarah has never forgotten loyalty. Weisz does a magnificent job of conveying Sarah’s tender and fierce heart.
Olivia Colman completes the treacherous trio the plot revolves around. Part comic relief, part oblivious monarch, and part willing participant, Queen Anne is the engine that powers the story. Colman’s performance is impressive as she makes the audience admire her before immediately making them laugh at how pitiful she is. Torn between the two feuding cousins, the Queen shows a range of emotions that range from love to jealousy to pettiness to anger. Colman beautifully captures all these different emotions in a powerful performance.
As great as these performances are they would feel wasted if not for an equally strong story. The Favourite provides a wonderful tale of betrayal, friendship, and loyalty. The writing is superb, filled with quick quips and witty retorts that are almost impossible to keep up with.
Lanthimos film also never put on airs. It does not feel that it is too high in station to delve into slapstick and vulgarity. The Favourite mixes in juvenile locker room talk along with its clever wordplay. Like an exquisite chocolate, the comedy here is dark and rich.
The cinematography and score are both gorgeous. The Favorite has a grey almost washed out look to it that makes it appear as if the movie takes place on a series of rainy days. Other scenes are shot in the dark with only a candle as lightning. It is amazing how much beauty Lanthimos is able to get out of such little light.
The camera also highlights the splendor of it surroundings. Wide shots are used to take in the full view of the palace. Many times, the camera never cuts and instead sweeps across entire rooms. Along with accentuating the natural beauty of the movie’s surroundings, showing characters alone in the cavernous rooms emphasizes the loneliness they are experiencing.
The score in The Favourite is indescribable yet adds to the film. The music is an odd mix of quirky, soothing, and haunting. But it is not just music alone that makes the film’s soundtrack stand out. Simple sound effects like pattering feet and gunshot are also a part of the movie’s tone. The Favourite may not sound like a traditional period piece but the risks it takes make it memorable.
The Favourite is the perfect mix of outlandish humor, obnoxious debauchery, and excellent storytelling. Every aspect of the film will engage audiences. In a year that includes strong releases such as The Death of Stalin and Hereditary, it would not be hyperbole to say The Favourite is a million times better than all of them combined.