In early 18th century England, 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.
Review by Louise Keller: A wonderfully acerbic piece on a sumptuous backdrop of regal decadence, The Favourite is salacious, savage and hypnotic. Controversial director Yorgos Lanthimos pulls yet another rabbit from his hat of boundary defying films to deliver perhaps his most accessible. More about rabbits later. This handsome 18th century costume drama is as cinematically beautiful as it is disturbing; its underlying viciousness grates like sandpaper. The film also offers three sizzling roles for three superb actresses, who get to show their characters' most devious traits.
In a gift of a role, Olivia Colman creates a pathetic and often comical character as the irrational, unpredictable and stark raving mad Queen Anne. The Queen could easily have become a caricature, yet Colman makes her credible, combining her bullying tactics to her pitiable, dependent state. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as Lady Sarah and Abigail respectively vie for the coveted role of the favourite; we see straight away that there is nothing either woman will not stoop to do in order to succeed. As Abigail notes: 'The only side I am on is mine.' Both are superb.
The visuals are gob smacking. Amid the tapestries, paintings, drapes, exquisite porcelain, crystal, flowers, candles, manicured gardens and corseted gowns, there is duck racing. And rabbits. The Queen dotes on her 17 pet rabbits, allegedly surrogates for the 17 babies she lost. While Lady Sarah baulks at playing with them ('Love has limits'), not so Abigail, whose ambition is on display from the moment she enters the palace covered in mud. There's a mud bath too, which Lady Sarah shares with the Queen, while Abigail watches. All is fair in love, war, secrets and ambition. Sexual bed favours and crude language are par for the course.
War and taxes are matters to be decided. Watch out for Nicholas Hoult, who looks wonderful as the Opposition Leader, complete with long poodle wig, powdered cheeks and mascara. Stunning cinematography with wide angled lenses showcase the plush surrounds, while a diverse score includes scratchy discords to accentuate our discomfort. Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara's screenplay is biting with dialogue that spits. Lanthimos embraces the subject matter and lets it rip. A film to savour.
Review by Andrew L. Urban: Fruity is what it is, sometimes squashy and overripe, sometimes firm and appealing, but everything about this film is rich and slightly pungent, including the characters. Well, especially the characters. Olivia Colman's Queen Anne is the fruitiest of them all, of course, pudgy, self conscious, unbalanced and totally dependent on Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). Lady Sarah is no lady, mind you, and shoots as well as she holds the real reins of the reigning monarch.
Enter Abigail (Emma Stone), muddied and slovenly after her bumpy carriage ride to the royal court, having lost her title and her father all at once, impoverished, desperate for a position. She has no friends at court, not even among the kitchen staff where she is given menial work.
From her arrival, she is a rival to Sarah for the Queen's affections and the ancillary power that goes with them. And that rivalry is the subject of this film, made with the offbeat artistry of Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of the Sacred Deer), from a screenplay by Australia's Tony McNamara (The Rage in Placid Lake, Love My way) and Deborah Davis.
If you haven't been there, early 18th century England is a riot of colour - at the Royal Court, at least. Elsewhere its muddy, dirty, dangerous and dank. It's a production designer's dream gig, likewise costumes etc. Overstatement is the mantra, but tastefully so, or occasionally rudely so.
Queen Anne speaks like a modern commoner, keeps 17 rabbits in cages in her quarters, swings wildly from calm to cantankerously shouty and Colman loves every second of it. So will you.