The Favourite is not a grotesque satire although it brings that description to mind. It’s a historical drama with a bit of comedy about the Queen of England in the early 18th century. While her soldiers are at war with the French, she and two other women are at home where, when aren’t competing for authority, they engage in games, debauchery, and sordid manipulation. It begins with Queen Anne who is ill and unstable. Her aid Sarah the Duchess of Marlborough gets things done for her as if she were the Queens mother. But then a new member is introduced which shakes their arrangement, a lowly servant named Abigail who is nervous, hardworking and wishes never to return to her previous livelihood. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, maker of quality but depressing films like The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, it’s got three performances that are worthy for either an Oscar win, nomination, or some form of recognition. Olivia Colman’s performance as the Queen looks lived in and a result of method. Rachel Weisz as Sarah is almost as compelling and Emma Stone proves her talent as Abigail.
But this is a success on a story level. How the predicament motivates the competition between Abigail and Sarah. One vying for comfort and the other for power. Their dialogue has wit and is done according to the period and culture which means that behavior is restricted to being prim. But off course that is not always the case. There is a tempestuous undercurrent that builds around the Queen and mainly in her quarters where the two ladies endeavor to win her favor. This is a costume drama and the lounging mood is captured amidst the Queen’s bedroom and large hallways where servants stand still during the day while the upper class play silly games like duck racing and orange tossing. The production is a tasty visual of ornaments in the palace with the camera using low angles to enhance authority of royal figures and long shots are occasionally taken with elongated sides so the picture looks slightly distorted. What pulls the films quality down however is a slight lack in moderation. There are vulgar sexual encounters that although not seen closely, should have been shortened. Historical accounts would probably not know what took place behind closed doors. But the film is likable nevertheless because of its performances, screenplay(by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara), and visual passion. It’s an entertaining experience although it might not be easy to identify how much is meant to be ridiculed or feel sad about.