The Favourite (2018)
The Favourite (2018)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.

Release Date: November 23rd, 2018 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos Actors: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, James Smith, Mark Gatiss

 


 

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imid, insecure, routinely depressed, tantrum-prone Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) worries about her latest speech, during which she may have spoken with a lisp. But her close friend, Lady Sarah Malborough (Rachel Weisz), assures her that her elocution was faultless. This brief introduction of two of the main characters sets up a light, comical tone for the proceeding story, which is – entirely unnecessarily – organized into sections, beginning with “Chapter I: This Mud Stinks.”

The French are on the run from the latest confrontation, though a peace treaty proposal must be contemplated in order to maintain England’s dominance. Of course, the elites of the court seem more concerned with an indoor duck race than with the ongoing war. Even when the Queen is due to meet the Russian ambassador, her experimental makeup, which turns her face into something like a badger, prevents her from the important consultation. Sarah bluntly advises the ruler, while also comforting her during a later spell of gout – and then negotiating battle plans when Anne is too unwell to speak.

When Sarah’s young cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) arrives (literally pushed out of a carriage), seeking employment, she’s treated to the harshness of starting from the bottom, a disgraced former lady. But in short time, she acquires a room of her own, along with duties of escalating importance (starting with serving as a maid to Sarah) – and closer and closer positioning to the Queen. In the process, she attracts the attention of the influential Colonel Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn), as well as opposition leader Harley (Nicholas Hoult) – who merely wants a spy on his side, or someone to provide gossip.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos tackles a completely new arena with this period piece, complete with powdered wigs, bright makeup, intricate costumes, and colorfully verbose insults. Yet his signature filmmaking styles are still entirely evident, if not intrusive and occasionally obnoxious – from jarring music to extreme camera angles (and odd lenses) to overlapping scenes to slow-motion to pitch black humor. His predilection for various grotesqueries, overt sexuality, and coarse language are also on display, transforming what could have been a straightforward biography into something entirely unique.

“I’m on my side, always.” As the film plays out, partially resembling “All About Eve” in its examinations of manipulation and competition and seduction, it also meanders, again in a manner common with the director’s works. It seems far more interested in building complicated relationships and funny interactions than in meaningfully progressing its plot. Nevertheless, the humor steadily increases, making the awkwardness and weirdness more palatable (the characters and their actions deviate so regularly from traditional costume dramas that it would be unrecognizable as such were it not for the production design). By the end of this alternately dangerous, whimsical, and overstuffed game of backstabbing and favoritism, the laughs are unable to win out; a pitiableness for shattered alliances and Anne’s gullibility and deteriorating health become the most prominent qualities for this singular yet unsatisfying experiment. Lanthimos once again opts to inject bizarreness for the sake of bizarreness, at a great detriment to both artistry and entertainment value.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10