‘The Favourite’ is an unforgettable treat

Brian Lang

More stories from Brian Lang


Emma Stone in The Favourite (2018)

The war is on in France, but the duck races continue… at least in Queen Anne’s court, the setting for Yorgos Lanthimos’s newest absurdist masterpiece “The Favourite.” Set in the early 1700s, “The Favourite” revolves around the deeply unbalanced Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and two fiercely competitive women vying for her favor: her childhood best friend and lover Lady Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and Sarah’s power-hungry cousin Abigal Masham (Emma Stone).

This power struggle love-triangle is only the beginning of a busy plot of rendezvous and betrayals, scheming and slandering all in hopes of gaining the pliable Queen’s ear, hoping for a prize of enormous wealth and stature. The historical accuracy of this tale is dubious, the premise gleaned from a passing fact in a history book, but Lanthimos has breathed a zany new life into it, duck races and all.

The absurdity of “The Favourite” is all part of the fun and makes a supreme setting for three talented actresses to show their stuff. Colman, due to play a much more regal Queen Elizabeth II on “The Crown” this year, dives headfirst into her queenly role. She sobs on the floor, yells at footmen and faints in Parliament, all the while being molded and played by her courtesans. She revels in playing this weak and hilarious character but is always sure to stop just shy of going too far with the part, leaving a shred of humanity, and deserved sympathy, for the pathetic queen.

Meanwhile, Anne’s ladies-in-waiting are competing for her affection and the vast power it affords. Weisz’s Lady Sarah is too confident for her own good as she fights against her scrappy cousin Abigal, underestimating the lengths she’ll go to gain prestige. Lady Sarah expects to fight with the Parliament members, but it’s the ladies-in-waiting that are the most dangerous in this court.

Stone transforms herself from her Oscar-winning role in “La La Land” to a much more cynical and vicious character. Her ingenue facade sloughs off quickly as her character becomes more and more unlikable, but Stone’s stellar performance is unwavering.

The real sheen of “The Favourite,” however, is when these three actresses get together, creating scenes and moments that are unrivaled on the silver screen. Their antics are overblown and their plotting is constant and wily. Surrounded by deception, Queen Anne is unaware of the mayhem in her court allowing her to be the most honest and strangely, relatable character in the film.

While all of this may sound like it could be just another costume drama, the spark comes from Lanthimos’s absurdist style. Bulging shots and sharp camera angles appear periodically, jarring the audience from their complacency, constantly keeping them off-kilter. It is a harsh reminder of the topsy-turvy world of Queen Anne’s Court and it keeps the audience just as far off balance as the Queen herself.

“The Favourite” is a film that is hard to recommend. Its absurdity and adult content might be too much for many audience members, but for those willing to step out of their comfort zone, “The Favourite” is a rare and unforgettable treat.

“The Favourite” has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards this year, including best picture, best actress and supporting actress and best director.