Sharp, filthy and fantastically anarchic, these are just some of the ways you could describe director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. Starring Olivia Colman as an utterly bonkers and hugely entertaining version of Queen Anne, the film is a deliberately anachronistic period comedy which manages to push the boundaries of costume drama beyond what is usually expected from the genre, making it one of the most original films of the year so far.
The action takes place in early 18th century England where an ailing and eternally dissatisfied Queen Anne (Colman) occupies the throne, while her best friend and lover Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) oversees the government with a firm hand. While her husband Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss) heads the troops against the French in an increasingly costly and pointless war, Lady Sarah is busy manipulating her way to the top, with only opposition leader Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult) to hold both her and her queen accountable. Things however take a turn for the unexpected when former aristocrat turned servant, Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives and is able to charm her way into the Queen’s heart and bed overnight. This results in a showdown between the two favourites, leading them to plot against each other in the hope of being the only one.
Pitting Weisz and Stone against each other in this brilliantly antagonistic and hugely satisfying narrative, Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of A Sacred Deer) manages to expertly create an atmosphere of relentless competition in which childish insults are often accompanied by actual violence. Depicting Queen Anne as frail and easily manipulated, The Favourite plays with ideas of jealousy and arch rivalry in a storyline in which power and sympathies are constantly shifting from one character to another. And while Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s screenplay is full of playful, and sometimes almost childish one-liners, what makes The Favourite even more special, is that despite everything else, you can’t help but root for all three characters even if they are in direct conflict with one another.
Colman is phenomenal and utterly mesmerising in a role which demands more from her than any other role before. Offering the queen as both naive, and, at times, deliberately cruel, the actor has taken on a hugely complicated part and made it her own with impressive ease. While both Weisz and Stone shine as two brilliantly motivated and ruthless women who will stop at nothing to win the affection of their monarch. Elsewhere, Nicholas Hoult surprises as Lord Harley whom her offers as a delicate dandy with a penchant for overusing a particular swear word.
The Favourite not only manages to constantly surprise by shifting sympathies from one character to the other, but what Lanthimos has also managed to do is offer a revisionist reading of a story which no other director would have chosen to present in such a way. This is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most original stories ever committed to film and is sure to be one of the director’s most accessible offerings to date.