In 18th Century England, Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough finds her position as the court ‘favourite’ of a gout-ridden Queen Anne challenged after the arrival of her destitute cousin, Abigail Hill in this bawdy historical comedy-drama from surrealist director, Yorgos Lanthimos.
For the more cynical amongst you, the above paragraph is probably throwing up all sorts of red flags. Indeed, it’s commonly agreed that ‘critically acclaimed period drama’ is generally a synonym for ‘incredibly dull’ – all pained expressions and ‘beautiful cinematography’ (another snooze-fest signifier).
However, such assumptions would be an unfair assessment of what is sure to be the funniest, crudest and most delightful film of the year.
Though plaudits and awards will no doubt go towards Olivia Colman for her stunning performance as Queen Anne; alternately a monstrous toddler and a tragic, lonely woman; both Emma Stone and Rachael Weisz are more than match as the duelling ‘favourites’, their back-biting, sniping, moves and counter moves giving us some of the best lines of the whole film.
Neither are rendered in black and white; In her ascension from scullery maid to Baroness, Emma Stone portrays Abigail less as the ostensible villain rather as someone hardened to the wounds she inflicts through the necessity of survival in an unjust patriarchy.
Likewise, Lady Marlborough rules by proxy through her relationship with Anne (what has previously been the subject of historical gossip and innuendo is made explicit here) her tongue lashings and withering putdowns a function of keeping the country on course, yet Rachael Weisz runs through her performance a thread of genuine, unmistakeable affection that makes it hard to write off Sarah as a controlling, emotionally manipulative shrew.
With a script effortlessly awash with equal parts wit and pathos, The Favourite feels almost too daring to be an awards contender. A costume drama with teeth and a delicious ear for explicit dialogue there’s something irreverently punk about the whole affair.
So far 2019 is off to a fabulous start.
by Will Higo