Review: The Favourite

Olivia Colman and Emma Stone in The Favourite

I found The Favourite eccentric and odd. It was both off-putting and charming at once. This story about Queen Anne is best described as a farce. The performances from the three main (women!) characters were outstanding.

Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz played the central characters in the tale. Queen Anne (Colman) was ill, petulant, and badly equipped to run a country or manage a war with France.

Rachel Weisz in The Favourite

Lady Sarah (Weisz) was the Queen’s friend and confidant since childhood. She advised the Queen on matters of state. She cheerfully sent her husband Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss) to lead the army into battle, knowing he might not come back.

Lady Sarah was the Queen’s sex partner when need be and relished the task.

Of all the characters juggling for power in this story, Lady Sarah was the one with the best grasp of what England needed to do to survive and stay strong.

Things were going well until Sarah’s niece Abigail (Stone) appeared, in need of help. Sarah took her in as a scullery maid. Abigail quickly manipulated her way into the Queen’s chambers, into her confidence, and into her bed.

Abigail was only interested in serving the interests of Abigail. When she gained the Queen’s favor, matters of state lost ground.

Nicholas Hoult in the center of the frame as Harley in The Favourite
Harley, in the center of the frame, argues his case before the Queen in her wheelchair

Oh, the men in wigs! And makeup. Lovely creatures they were! Harley (Nicholas Hoult) led the opposition and often came to sway the Queen to his point of view. As long as Sarah was managing the Queen, it was an equal fight. But when Abigail had the Queen’s ear, things grew chaotic.

My mixed feelings

Yorgos Lanthimos directed The Favourite. He’s known for his peculiar take on stories. I liked The Lobster and found it interesting. Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz worked with Lanthimos on The Lobster, and followed him into The Favourite. A wise decision, since this film became a worldwide hit and won numerous awards.

The choice to use modern language and no specific English accent made this both a modern morality tale and a sort of drunk history lesson.

I didn’t like the bendy, fish-eye, camera work. If I understood what Lanthimos meant to say by it I might, but I don’t. I also didn’t like the fast, dizzying, panning of the camera. Another statement from the director that whizzed over my head.

Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in The Favourite
Let’s shoot something! Aim carefully, the world is bent.

I loved it when Lady Sarah put on men’s clothing and marched around in command. She took Abigail out shooting and generally made sure Abigail knew Sarah was the boss.

I loved that the three main characters in the story were women. All three of them were fantastic in their roles. Olivia Colman as the sick, moody, childish, and demanding Queen gave a brilliant performance.

The music drove me crazy. Sometimes it was nothing more than very loud atonal string plucking and drum beats that ended as abruptly as it started. Distracting at best.

That Ending

The Queen had been through 17 pregnancies. She lost every one of her children, which would be enough to make any woman crazy. Now Queen Anne had 17 rabbits in cages in her chambers. Substitute babies.

Anne saw Abigail deliberately hurting one of the rabbits. Anne hurled herself from her bed. She could hardly stand. She ordered Abigail to “rub my leg” which was code for fingering her.

We see Abigail on her knees before the Queen, working away. Then it’s a close frame of Anne’s puffy, ravaged face. She’s unfocused and blank. Hundreds of rabbits flash across the screen. And the story ends. The unclimax.

Really? That was the end? Weird. But it makes an impression that sticks with you. Actually, that verdict applies to the entire movie.

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4 thoughts on “Review: The Favourite”

  1. I hadn’t been specially aware of the video effects (or they didn’t stay with me), but one thing you didn’t mention was the extreme justification of the various titles, which often ludicrously separated letters. I think the video effects, off music and titles all helped lend an intentional ‘distancing effect’, perhaps top focus our attention more on matters of power plays between people rather than engaging our identification with one character or another. I know that final scene, amounting to rape, certainly coerced sex, had enormous impact. And again there, perhaps the visuals of rabbits was another element of the distancing.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Miraz. Having titles in the first place was unusual, and then using the justified text to make them almost unreadable was doubly unusual. I hadn’t thought of it as creating a distancing effect, but it certain does.

      I’m not sure I agree on the rape idea since the Queen demanded to be serviced. Coerced would apply to Abigail, not to Anne.

  2. Yes, we’re saying the same thing re the rape. The Queen forced Abigail to service her. Abigail was raped / coerced. That’s just semantics though really – it was all about power, eh.

    1. Oh, I had it the other way around. Thanks for answering. Yes, it was all about power.

      It’s hard not to compare The Favourite to the ridiculous state of politics in the US today . . .

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