In the early 18th century, a frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail (Emma Stone), arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. However, when Sarah takes Abigail under her wing, the young maid sees it as an opportunity to return to her aristocratic roots…
I have a confession to make: until very recently, I hadn’t watched a single Yorgos Lanthimos film. I know, I know: how can I be a ‘serious’ film reviewer and not watched the celebrated weirdness (The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer) of the powerhouse director?
Thankfully, all that has now changed, as I’ve finally popped my Lanthimos cherry. And what better film to do it with than his Golden Globe and SAG nominated The Favourite?
Frankly, the trailer had me dying to watch this film for the corsets alone (give me a period piece and I’m happy as a clam!), but then I noticed the powerhouse cast. This is a film with not just one female lead, not two, but three! Unprecedented. And trust me when I say there’s not a generic, flat packed, two-dimensional female character in sight. I’m talking complexity, people. Brava to Queen Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone.
We meet Queen Anne, played sensationally by Colman, as she gifts a palace to her best friend and political advisor, Lady Sarah Churchill (Weisz). Rather than happily accept the present, though, Sarah goes on to remind the clueless monarch that a war is raging. And there, ladies and gentlemen, seems to be our story in a nutshell: this is a film about a relationship between ‘friends’… or, you know, a puppet and her puppeteer. It’s a dynamic made clear as Sarah chastises the queen’s make-up by pointing out that, quite hilariously, she looks “like a badger” (a top-form insult). As the film progresses, we see the queen becoming ever reliant on her friend’s guidance… but this wouldn’t be titled The Favourite if there wasn’t a bit of competition. And, oh my, does Stone’s Abigail Masham provide it!
Yes, Abigail fills the trope of a poor relation (she’s the mud-splashed and destitute cousin of Lady Sarah), but that’s where the predictability ends. In fact, Miss Abigail Masham is unlike any character you have ever seen in a period drama. She’s unafraid to use sex as a social climbing tool (more power to you, sister!), has wits of steel, is more than willing to fight dirty, and is smart as a whip, too. Indeed, Stone’s portrayal is a breath of fresh air and has you leaning forwards in your seat as her character’s outrageous plans come to fruition. Never before have I seen her in a role quite like this, and she’s brilliant!
What happens next, then? Well, a battle of wills, and it’s a sight to behold. The shadiness of it all would cause the Real Housewives cast to take notes in the art of petty, and it most definitely had me howling, not least of all because of the filthy language (think c***s aplenty). And if you think the well-landed barbs of Lady Sarah, Abigail and even the (seemingly infantilised) Queen Anne are enough to cause bodily harm, make no mistake about it: blood is eventually shed. Just not in the way you might expect.
It would be all too easy to lump this film into the comedy category, as it does descend into the ridiculous at points, but that would be a mistake. Lanthimos’ direction is as fast-paced as the script, swooping us from the outlandish to the gut-wrenching without warning. In the process, he gives us a royal farce with both teeth and heart. A perfect example of this? During a laugh-out-loud dance scene in court, we move from the ridiculous choreography to Anne watching from her throne – and her tortured expression really does take you aback. Colman is so utterly resplendent, with her eyes conveying so much more anguish and pain than the mere physical ailments she endures. It is a feat only she can accomplish – one which will no doubt land her pitch perfect performance firmly on the pedestal marked ‘National Treasure’.
Just like Colman, Weisz and Stone are beyond cruel in their actions and words, yet still have you feeling sorry for them and (quite shockingly at times) rooting for them, too! But no, there are no winners in Lanthimos’ vicious game of thrones …expect for these trio of actresses. The fab three.
Ah, don’t you just love women?
Image: The Favourite
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Mayran Yusuf is a film critic who loves nothing better than a good scroll of @TheShaderoom on Instagram and a sucker for any drama that BBC flings out. Series link at the ready!
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