It’s my favorite film so far this season: THE FAVOURITE, an 18th century biopic about British Queen Anne. A good old-fashioned, period costume drama? No bloody way. It’s “Dangerous Liaisons” shot through the looking glass, except that it’s “Anne” instead of “Alice,” and “les liaisons” are decidedly and historically lesbian.
THE FAVOURITE is a delicious satire of courtly intrigue, royal ribaldry, and a bodice ripper of political proportions, starring Emma Stone as Abigail, a down on her luck aristocrat who arrives at the palace, mud-spattered, having just been booted out of her carriage, yet gamely comes-a-courting. Much more mud will be slung (and mud baths taken) as Abigail encounters Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) the power behind the throne and a diabolical dominatrix who holds the queen hostage to her charms. Stone’s fresh and frisky Abigail and Weisz’s raven-haired sharp-tongued Lady Sarah will vie for the monarch’s favor– in bed and out.
This queen has but a loose grip on affairs of state, and remains oblivious and susceptible to manipulation from all sides. The more fun for us; as the wheel of power turns each insidious scheme and stratagem ratchets up the tension, surprise, and wicked laughs. It should be noted that in the rough and tumble world of this court, men in wigs and powder are mere playthings for these wily women jockeying for supremacy. It’s a refreshing reversal of emphasis in a genre dominated by men and their maneuvers.
The queen delights in stirring up this nest of vipers in between escalating bouts of gout, and playing with her 17 bunnies, fluffy substitutes for her late, much-mourned children. Olivia Colman’s performance as Queen Anne is as kinetic as a pinball, ricocheting from childlike vulnerability, to monarchical gravitas, all propelled by an underlying pain and instability which makes her seem mad as a march hare, eyes popping as she screams or hurls herself to the floor. It’s a brilliant, off the charts, one-of-a-kind performance.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”) and cinematographer Robbie Ryan inflate the machinations to lunatic proportions through fisheye, wide angle lenses which capture the distortion of the decadent, closed world of the court; candlelight and deep, saturated color further emphasize its claustrophobia. In between racing ducks and tossing oranges at naked targets, there’s much talk of stripping and whipping, and wacky court dancing. Lanthimos’s background as a director of music and dance videos is put to zany use in a nutty hip hop gavotte. Witty editing makes for maximum mockery, and emphasizes the screenwriters’ (Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara) intentions. Case in point: while out shooting, Abigail takes aim, and leaves no doubt she’s hit all intended targets as the unlucky bird’s blood spatters Lady Sarah’s upturned face. Horrifying and hilarious.
THE FAVOURITE is already making a splash on the international awards circuit and getting Oscar buzz. Do not miss this overripe romp through the “monstrous extravagance” of a lavish and savage world, and prepare to wallow in the spite and might of those who wield power and have lost sight of what to do with it.