THE FAVOURITE -- Grade: A
This costume comedy-drama has some odd quirks built in, but the three women at the center of the story are fascinating and fully developed.
The Favourite is inspired by a true story that original screenwriter and historian Deborah Davis dug up and copiously researched, re-imagining the complicated love-and-friendship triangle between Britain’s Queen Anne (the smashing Olivia Colman), and her advisors and attendants, the duchess Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and lady-in-waiting Abigail (Emma Stone). And yeah, there are a couple of guys around, but the focus is firmly and refreshingly on these complex, completely realized women. So, yay.
The Queen and Sarah were childhood BFFs, and now Sarah is Her Majesty’s secret lover and closest confidant, guiding the insecure Anne’s actions on the ongoing war between Britain and France and tending to her every whim. When Sarah’s cousin Abigail arrives at the palace, her once-respectable family now disgraced by her father’s gambling debts, Sarah gets her a gig as a scullery maid. Soon enough, though, Abigail finds herself in the Queen’s good graces, and sees a way to restore herself to respectability. She spies an opening in the queen’s heart, mind -- and bed -- when Sarah begins to chafe at the Queen’s demands on her time and attention. Of course, Sarah’s not going to go quietly, and the scheming twists and turns begin in earnest.
What’s wonderful about The Favourite is how each of these female characters is so fully developed and so completely different from one another. Colman is getting rightful raves for her portrayal of the unsure, put-upon, petulant and sickly Queen, who seems both afraid of and awed by her own power. Her journey towards selfhood and strength is remarkable to see. And Weisz's Sarah is torn between her affection for the Queen, annoyance at Anne's clinginess, and her desire for power as England's de-facto prime minister.
A gifted comic actress, Stone always lights up the screen -- it's why she's a movie star -- and she's impressive as always here as the smart, resourceful woman who's determined to rise above her circumstances, no matter the cost.
Meanwhile, despite what the commercials and previews are trying to tell you, The Favourite is not your average, everyday royal costume comedy -- it's really quite an odd duck. (In fact, it includes an actual odd duck, a championship-racing waterfowl who represents the various bourgeois entertainments enjoyed by the early 18th-century court.) Director Yorgos Lanthimos is most famed for his other deeply weird movie, The Lobster, and brings his quirky sensibilities to the screen here as well. They may not be to everyone’s liking, but gotta say, it was refreshing to see such an original vision applied to a period piece.
Femme Critic Score:
Female Leads: Hell to the yeah! Three blockbuster performances.
Female Director: No
Female Writer: Deborah Davis came up with the concept and shares credit for the screenplay.
Passes the Bechdel Test: Of course.