Director Yorgos Lanthimos has made some rather, well, quirky films. 2016’s “The Lobster” left audiences puzzled, yet his screenplay earned him an Oscar nomination. His latest movie is slightly more mainstream yet at the same time very niche.
“The Favourite” is a dark comedic take on the 18th Century British monarchy, with an unstable Queen Anne at the throne. A trio of women dominate this story. Queen Anne is played by British actress Olivia Colman. Her long-time friend and dedicated assistant is Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). She attends to all of Queen Anne’s needs and also uses her position to influence the Queen on decisions of state.
Then Sarah’s lower-class cousin Abigail shows-up looking for a position on the royal staff. And everything changes. Much like Sarah, Emma Stone’s Abigail is ambitious, eager to improve her status in life. A rivalry ensues between these two for Queen Anne’s affections… and the perks that come with them.
This “battle” becomes the core element of “The Favourite”. Yet, it’s the least surprising and rewarding part of the movie. Once it’s established that both women will do whatever to takes to maintain/gain power, their actions are not surprising. More interesting is how the mentally unstable Queen Anne responds. Could she actually be playing both of them?
The three leading ladies get an equal amount of screen time. But it makes sense that Lanthimos is putting Colman up for Best Actress this Awards Season. Stone and Weisz will (like their characters in the film) duke it out in the Best Supporting Actress category. All three give strong performances, with Colman’s being the deepest and most impressive. And this role will prepare her well for her next task: playing an older Queen Elizabeth II on the new season of Netflix’s “The Crown”.
As anticipated, Lanthimos throws-in a few of his signature oddities into “The Favourite”. These are used to illustrate the absurdities of the class system during this time. Some of his touches work, such as the chapter-like structure, the intense violin score and, yes, a couple of duck races. But often the dark humor and whip-smart, sarcastic dialogue makes this fancy farce feel too contemporary.
Still, “The Favourite” is worth seeing for the performances, the glamorous sets and costumes, and a story that certainly doesn’t go in directions you expect. But is it one of my “favourite” films of the year? That’s an easy – No.