With a dazzling trio of actresses at its center and a juicy romantic/sexual triangle between them all, “The Favourite” should be eaten up alive at the box office this holiday season. Gay audiences, in particular, should love it.
Opening this week in Atlanta-area theaters, “The Favourite” is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, known best for his offbeat, Oscar-nominated “The Lobster” from 2016. This film isn’t nearly as dark and unsettling, however.
Taking place in 18th-century England, “The Favourite” follows Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), who sits on the throne, despite the fact that her health is not great. While she is tending to her health, her friend Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), the duchess of Marlborough, is — in effect — running the country. The dynamics of their relationship start to change, however, when a new servant, Sarah’s cousin, comes to the castle. Abigail (Emma Stone) has once been part of a respected family but was sold by her gambling father. Overstepping her boundaries, Abigail helps the queen and soon she has won Anne over. Yet Abigail may not the simpleton for which she is dismissed — she clearly has an agenda and lots of ambition. Soon, Anne is enjoying the attention of both Abigail and Sarah, and enjoying seeing both women try and trump the other.
“The Favourite” has been compared somewhat to “All About Eve,” with its scheming central characters and fleeting loyalties. The script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara plays faithfully but takes some liberties. In their battleground, sex can be about affection but it can all too often be about power and position.
This is definitely the director’s most mainstream film. It manages as well to be very funny with quotable lines. It’s also a bit naughty, with frank dialogue and sexual situations. Yet never do Davis and McNamara or Lanthimos neglect their character’s emotional backbone or treat them with scant dimensions. The film boasts a terrific ensemble, including Nicholas Hoult as Robert Harley, a Tory leader with political ideas of his own. The three women are center stage, though, and are all fascinating in their own right.
This is apparently Weisz’s year to play lesbians. Besides her work in this, she also appeared this spring in the drama “Disobedience.” As Sarah, she’s brittle but protective of Anne, and as Abigail swoops in and try to fill in for her, she becomes the film’s conscience. Stone’s performance is some of her finest work ever. It’s a subtle performance, one that doesn’t give away everything. Sweet little Abigail convincingly becomes someone dead set on getting her way.
Finally, in a performance that might win her a Best Actress, Colman — who will be taking over for Claire Foy in “The Crown” — makes Anne is a fascinating creature. One moment she is in her bed, frail and unable to do much for herself. Moments later, she is barking orders at her staff and changing allegiances at the drop of a hat. It’s a gorgeous-looking film, too, with lush cinematography by Robbie Ryan and a terrific visual sense.
The last moments seems superfluous, including a really odd final scene, but this is a period piece for those who don’t really like period pieces. One of the best films of 2018, “The Favourite” is stylish, well made, and extremely entertaining.
Metro Atlanta theaters