The court of Queen Anne is given a surreal treatment in Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s flamboyant, witty and brilliantly acerbic new film The Favourite. Starring Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, the film offers a somewhat revisionist retelling of a story about a lesser known monarch in this genuinely funny, and at times utterly bonkers drama comedy.
Fans of Lanthimos’s recent output will be all too familiar with the director’s rather singular approach to storytelling. From the fantastically entrancing The Lobster, to the genuinely disturbing The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the director has managed to cultivate his own brand of observational cinema by navigating the human condition from a completely new and fresh standpoint.
Set in early 18th century England, The Favourite tells the story of the relationship between an ailing Queen Anne (Colman) and the two women vying for her attention during turbulent times. After years of poor health and personal tragedy, the queen has all but relinquished her royal duties to her dutiful friend, confidante and sometimes lover Lady Sarah Churchill (Weisz), whom she has constantly showers with praise and extravagant gifts.
Pushed by Sarah and her husband Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss) to continue with a costly war against the French, Anne suddenly finds herself lambasted by the leader of the opposition, the foppish Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult), who warns her against a revolt in the countryside if she continues raising taxes to pay for the next military campaign.
Things are further complicated by the arrival of Sarah’s cousin, the calculating Abigail Masham (Stone), a former aristocrat fallen on hard times who drives a wedge between the queen and her beloved by making herself indispensable to the monarch. Soon the two women find themselves at loggerheads in a battle for the big prize, a fight which grows increasingly more and more erratic.
Lanthimos offers yet another outstanding study in human interaction, and unlike most of his earlier output, The Favourite definitely presents his most conventional narrative to date, all the while managing to retain the director’s unmistakable surreal and deadpan tone throughout.
Mixing both comedy and tragedy, Colman is truly exceptional in one of her most demanding roles to date, while both Weisz and Stone offer phenomenal turns as two women who seize every opportunity to make themselves heard in a court usually dominated by powerful men.
The Favourite is not only laugh-out-loud funny, it is also Lanthimos’s best and most consistent film to date. With its sharp and unabashedly filthy dialogue, the film presents a genuine tour de force from all involved and deserves every Oscar and BAFTA nod coming its way.