In the early 18th century, Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives to the estate of ailing Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) looking for employment from her cousin, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). Lady Sarah is the Queen’s favourite and helps her rule the country while also being her personal attendant.
England is at war with France and as the coffers run dry, so does the patience of the politicians – adding to the stress of the Queen.
When Abigail gains favor with Sarah, she uses her newfound access to the Queen to her advantage. Lady Sarah will have nothing of this and a war of wits, posturing and manipulation ensues.
“The Favourite” sounds like a tense cat and mouse game of political and social intrigue. It is, but it also has sharp wit that makes it a humorous film. The subtle maneuverings of the English royalty are taken and twisted into a lively, fast-paced period piece – at least in the opening two acts.
This film has it all. There’s debauchery, raunchy language, violence, politics, romance, comedy, subtlety, beauty and truth.
Abigail has lost her societal standing and is willing to go to any length to retrieve it. Lady Sarah is the second most powerful person in England and holds this moniker with an iron grip.
The production design for this film is absolutely stunning. Filmed at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, the setting is breathtaking and almost distracting from its beauty. These galleries take on lives of their own as the vapid characters play their petty games within the elegant confines. The costuming is gorgeous and adds a wonderous depth to an already memorable film.
The comedy is dry and witty, the actors’ comic timing is paramount and used to jab, poke and skewer one another in playful and dastardly ways – hitting where it counts and stepping away quickly. Viewers must be focused and remain open-minded because the saucy language and historical biases will keep one off balance in a most delightful way.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos divides his film into manageable chapters, paring down the exposition and focusing this narrative into a fast-paced riveting journey. Each line of dialogue is meant to elicit laughs or raise the story tension.
The cast is outstanding from top to bottom and it’s evident that these actors enjoyed their roles. Coleman’s Queen Anne is spoiled, fickle, and lonely. Stone’s Abigail is sad, alluring, and beautifully manipulative. However, Weisz’s Lady Sarah exhibits white knuckled charm, lovingly pointed threats and a memorable female power.
Set in a society where common women have little power, this film squarely places them in charge to perfect effect. Although these women expound on their degradation, they give as good as they get, insulting the men around them and showing that they can be just as petty, crass and horny as their male counterparts.
“The Favourite” is a burst of fresh air in the stodgy genre of period pieces. We follow two conniving women worming their way into position as the favourite, but, be careful what you wish for . . .