Greek-born director Yorgos Lanthimos’ opulent costume drama relates scandalous rumors that have circulated for years about 18th century Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart monarchs, who reportedly indulged in lesbian liaisons with two of her closest sycophants.
After losing 17 children, portly, peevish, petulant Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is no longer interested in ruling England, which is waging war with France. Instead, she’d rather eat sweets, play with her pet rabbits and dawdle with pretty young ladies.
So her closest chum, sublimely scheming Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), makes the Queen’s pivotal political decisions with Prime Minister Godolphin (James Smith), until suddenly Sarah’s cherubic, yet shrewdly conniving cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) shows up at Kensington Palace, having fallen on hard times.
“Favour is a breeze that shifts direction all the time,” warns haughty, duplicitous Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford (Nicolas Hoult).
Playing complicated court games, ambitious Abigail learns to make herself indispensable to the volatile, yet vulnerable, gout-stricken Queen, as a spiky power-shift occurs.
Working from a decadent, diabolical script by Daborah Davis and Tony McNamara, Yorgos Lanthimos is an experimental filmmaker, specializing in coyly controversial amorality and acidic, deadpan delivery, as shown in Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
In this naughty, nasty showcase, the three leading ladies outdo themselves in vulgarity.
Olivia Colman is best known for British TV’s Broadchurch and as the aging Queen Elizabeth II in the upcoming season of Netflix’s The Crown. Emma Stone, Oscar-winner for La La Land, adroitly adopts a British accent. And Rachel Weisz epitomizes her cool contention: “Sometimes, a lady likes to have fun.”
After three weeks of rehearsals, filming took place at England’s Hatfield House and Hampton Court, incorporating Fiona Crombie’s lavish production design, Sandy Powell’s elegant costumes and Robbie Ryan’s sweeping cinematography, evoking memories of Stanley Kubrick’s sumptuous “Barry Lyndon.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, The Favourite is a sensual, yet nasty, sardonic 6, a bizarre historical farce.