Film Review: “The Favorite”

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Cynical, absurd, and fiercely entertaining “The Favorite” is one of the best films of 2018.

Dark, twisted, nihilistic, and hilarious, “The Favourite” follows Queen Anne, Lady Sarah Churchill, and a new arrival in court, Abigail Masham, through court intrigue so perilous that it makes “Dangerous Liaisons” seem Disneyesque.

“The Favourite” takes place in England during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714), and is loosely based on true events. Queen Anne (an iconic, Academy Award winning performance by Olivia Colman) was pregnant 17 times, though all of her children were stillborn. And by the time of her reign, she is suffering from multiple health issues, presumably brought on by, well, 17 pregnancies. As Queen she is irritable, weepy, infantile, confused, and distracted, all in one scene. But underneath, Anne is absolutely aware she is surrounded by sycophants including her closest friend, lover, and advisor Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), who governs when the Queen cannot.

Things get sticky when a former aristocrat, Abigail Masham (Emma Stone), turns up at court dripping in mud-soaked ambition. Deceptively sweet Abigail secures a job in the kitchen, but has a plan to restore her former place in society that includes supplanting Sarah as the queen’s favorite. Lady Sarah makes the fatal mistake of underestimating what Abigail is willing to do in order to regain her status.

The excellent female leads drive the narrative and although men are present in the story their roles are minimal. The women want nothing to do with romance; sex is viewed strictly as a power play, leaving the men feeling slightly confused when traditional dynamics are shifted. As the war between Lady Sarah and Abigail escalates, it’s both thrilling and tense to witness their no-holds-barred battle for Anne’s affection— without a rulebook or a referee.

Technically this is Emma Stone’s film. As Abigail, it is her character’s arc we follow throughout, and while all three actresses are in top form, Coleman is just astounding. The best thing about her portrayal of Anne is that her Queen is incredibly human. Anne is imprisoned by the role she must play as Queen, a body that is failing her, and no real friends; it is essentially your worst never-ending day at the office — and we all can relate to that.

“The Favorite” is mercilessly bleak in its assessment of human beings motivated by power and greed. And other than Queen Anne herself, you will not find a character in this story with a single redeeming quality. That said, “The Favorite” is easily one of the best and most unique films of the year—well deserving of its many award nominations including nods from the Golden Globes, The Screen Actors Guild, and the Academy Awards.

Starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz

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