In Brief: With or without the old English spelling, it’s not bad but not my favorite of the year.
If I only judge this movie on ensemble acting, then The Favourite would be among my favorites this year. On its own, it doesn’t come close. The film is loosely based on the life of England’s Queen Anne and her relationship with Sarah Churchill.
Anne was the nation’s queen from 1702 to 1714.
The film is set somewhere in the middle of that time period. It takes some historical liberties with the actual story of the queen and the woman who was — at the time — considered the power behind the throne. Her close relationship with the queen let Sarah influence a lot of decisions Anne made.
Sarah was also one of the few people who could criticize the queen — sometimes even rudely — and get away with it.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) and first time screenwriter Deborah Davis and Australian TV series writer Tony McNamara focus on the Sarah’s real life rivalry with her cousin Abigail who usurped her as the queen’s top confidant. Some historical records — hint that Queen Anne might have been a lesbian.
Lanthimos takes that unsubstantiated hint and makes it the film’s reality.
He casts Oscar and Golden Globe winners Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardner) and Emma Stone (La La Land) as Sarah and Abigail and Olivia Colman (TV’s The Crown, The Lobster) as the queen.
The film starts with Abigail begging Sarah for a job in the queen’s castle. Sarah and the queen are secretly lovers. Abigail accidentally witnesses a tryst and hints to Sarah that she’s a loyal friend and willing to keep such a dangerous secret to herself.
A bit unnerved but still in a position of power, she makes Abigail her personal assistant and the two become allies. The alliance soon dissolves as the two women battle to be the top person in the queen’s life.
The Favourite is one of those revenge is a dish better served cold movies and the three actresses have a blast with the material. Weisz and Stone use their comedic and dramatic ability to thrust and parry with great skill. Sometimes their lines are delivered with eyes slitted and full of deadly menace and at other times with eyes wide and tongues firmly planted in cheeks.
It fits perfectly with the power struggle of the two powers behind the power. Adding to the fun is the power struggle within Parliament, and how those powers lend themselves to the twisting of the struggle between the two women.
All of this is supported by Colman’s flighty, indecisive and very needy Anne. She’s brilliantly manic in the way you imagine an unhealthy, spoiled monarch would behave responding to intense situations or when they have no idea what to do next.
Colman is often more like a little girl that the leader of a country.
Lanthimos lays his movie out in chapters whose titles are comic in nature. It fits the sometimes whimsical nature of the film. At first you root for Abigail. You feel sorry for her. As the film moves forward you begin to notice that this is a lady who is anything but helpless. Weisz’s Sarah is powerful. You can’t get the best of her even when you get the best of her.
It’s a nice contrast that makes the contest comic as well as interesting — at least for awhile. And that’s where The Favourite falters. After awhile the one-upmanship grows old and really has nowhere to go except where history took the real lives of these women.
And that — alas — isn’t a direction that’s all that interesting.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn
Rated R for mature themes, language and brief nudity. Acting doesn’t get any better than this but old English spelling or not, The Favourite is a heavy disappointment. The acting gives it a barely positive review. Give it a 3 on the Average Joe Movie 0 to 5 scale.
5 to 4 1/2: Must see on the big screen.
4 to 3 1/2: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 to 2 1/2: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 to 1: Don’t bother.
0:Speaks for itself.
Catch Gary Wolcott Friday afternoons at 4:50 on KXL’s Afternoon News.
Gary has been KXL’s movie critic since 2014. A lifelong fan of film, he’s been a film critic in radio, television and newspaper for 28-years. Wolcott catches a couple of hundred movies a year and he sees a great many of them so you don’t have to.
He is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
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