Ironic Twist on England's Royal History
Think The Favourite is just another drab royal period piece? Think again. First, this film is from Yorgos Lanthimos who brought us the twisted The Killing of a Sacred Deer and the ambitious The Lobster. The guy is simply one of the most enigmatic filmmakers going right now. That reason alone is enough to recommend this period drama that defies its genre tropes and leans heavily into the bizarre intersection of politics, betrayal, revenge, power, and sexuality -- but is a whole lot of fun to watch. Secondly, the film doesnít rely so heavily on beautiful period costumes, lavish set dressings, and stuffy dialogue as do most films of the genre. Donít get me wrong. There is plenty of that. But if youíve seen any of Lanthimosí previous work, you know what youíre in for. And it is certainly anything but stuffy and drab.
Letís begin with the cast. Lanthimos clearly loves working with Rachel Weisz (the two paired up previously in 2015ís The Lobster) and the affection must be mutual as the actress is brilliant with her acerbic Lady Sarah Churchill, who is friend, confidante, and advisor to Queen Anne (Olivia Colman, Murder on the Orient Express), ruler of 17th Century England. Where Queen Anne is a wishy-washy coward at times, Lady Sarah is anything but as she handles the everyday affairs of state for the ailing Queen, including a raging war against the French. Weiszís razor-sharp wit and ruthlessly sly cunning marks what may be one of her best performances and should certainly keep her in mind for awards season.
Arriving unannounced at the estate is Abigail Masham (Emma Stone), cousin to Lady Sarah, who takes work as a Palace servant. But it isnít long before Abigail has wormed her way into the good graces of the Queen with hopes of regaining her high place in British society that was lost when her father squandered the family fortune and burned their house down. However, her expeditious move from servant to housemaid doesnít go unnoticed by Lady Sarah who soon enough sets in motion a plan to have the young maid removed from the palace grounds.
But the Queen will have none of that, and it is this battle between the two that sets in motion a despicable yet delicious three-way love/hate relationship we just love watching implode upon itself. Neither of the three has much of anything resembling a moral compass. In fact, each is simply a downright ruthless and despicable human being as this struggle for power rages on.
Credit Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara whose brilliantly multi-layered script -- filled with whip-smart quips, snappy rejoinders and biting satire -- pulls from todayís fetid political climate and sets it amidst the gilded tapestries and stodgy demure of 17th century England. Combine that with the highly experimental cinematography of Robbie Ryan (including fish eye lenses and anamorphic widescreen), Johnnie Burnís musical score, the gorgeous production design from Fiona Crombie and the entire experience feels like some kind of vivid nightmarish fever dream that plays perfectly into the filmís black-hearted intentions. The whole production is a perfectly executed thing of beauty and a true masterpiece that works only because everyone involved is operating at full potential. And credit Lanthimos for balancing everything to perfection.
But none of it works without the three wonderful performances from Colman, Stone and Weisz. It is difficult to overstate the strength of the trioís contribution to the success of the film. At the top of that heap is Colman who stands out as the overly-dramatic Queen who would just as soon be off with your head as she would be sharing her next meal. It would certainly surprise if she isnít recognized by the Academy for her performance here. In fact, any of the three carry strong arguments for their respective categories as well as the film in its category, and Lanthimos in his. The Academy loves this kind of stuff and so should you.
The Favourite is a devilishly funny little piece of period work with Lanthimos at the controls of our emotions as he masterfully balances the storyís tragedy and wit with a trio of top-notch performances. It is certainly not for everyone, but period film lovers will eat this up for its ironic twist on Englandís Royal history while others will appreciate its pure entertainment value and themes that ring true some 300+ years later.
(Released by Fox Searchlight and rated ďRĒ for strong sexual content, nudity and language.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.