Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Run time: 1 hour and 59 minutes
Some may find period films, filled with bustling skirts, demure manners and power-hungry men, an utter bore. Banish that notion. Through a superb script bristling with wit and female characters with teeth, The Favourite is a sharply titillating depiction of power struggles — not within the British Parliment so much, as men are merely chessboard pieces in a game that’s won or lost behind the closed doors of Queen Anne’s chambers. The rules of ladylike decorum, composure, and even friendship are but masks to be picked up and worn only at the appropriate times by the contenders of the Queen’s affection, so she may never see the fangs or true intentions of those around her.
A brilliant trio of women leads this historical drama-comedy, all showcasing warrior-like strength and cunning and in the same breath vulnerabilities and deep sorrow. Olivia Colman is undeniable as the ageing Queen Anne – a gout-plagued monarch whose poor understanding and wavering confidence have her rely heavily on her beloved companion – the Dick Cheney to her President George W. Bush – Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). Lady Sarah has long settled into the role of friend, lover, a harsh critic, and de facto ruler – never assuming another may challenge her position as the Queen’s confidant and influencer. Enter Abigail (Emma Stone), the young and destitute cousin of Lady Sarah, whose trials in life have given her the motivation to climb any ladder for a more comfortable spot on the Queen’s court. Where Lady Sarah is dictatorial and wry, Abigail is charming and guileful, carefully positioning herself as a counter to all that Queen Anne finds lacking or disagreeable in Lady Sarah. Political scheming is never far under the surface with each of the companions attempting to turn the monarch’s head towards their chosen allies who compliment their own selfish desires.
Like any period drama, liberties were taken with historical accuracy. Queen Anne’s husband, Prince George of Denmark, was simply omitted from the narrative altogether. Perhaps his presence was too dull compared to the daunting women around him. The actual dispute behind the two parties of statesmen, the Torys and Whigs (which includes a deliciously sly Nicholas Holt), is entirely misrepresented. However, other elements were true; Queen Anne struggled with miscarriages, at least 17, before having a son who later died at age 11. The rivalry between Lady Sarah and Abigail (both real women) is also documented, though it’s unlikely that it escalated to the extremes shown through the film. I’m hardly a historian and have gleaned much of this information from Vulture‘s Nate Jones who has a wonderful article sorting fact from fiction — also answering the prime question we all had — Did Queen Anne really keep 17 rabbits (representing her lost pregnancies) hopping around her chamber?
It’s unlikely that this will be the last time you’ll hear about The Favourite. It’s currently up for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, Best Leading Actress (Olivia Colman), and two nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz). It garnered accolades earlier with Golden Globe nominations (Colman taking home the lone award as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy), BAFTAs, and Screen Actors Guild Awards. As the royal fixation only grows stronger as the masses await the latest update on the royal baby or rush to buy whichever chic frock Meghan or Kate step out in (don’t pretend you don’t care), the royal intrigue is aptly timed. With the Oscars just around the corner (Sunday, Feb. 24. Mark your calendars people!), many are anxious to see if the film’s biting wit will earn it the favourite spot among critics.