The Favourite

November 30, 2018

in Movies

Film (2018)

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenplay by Tony McNamara, Deborah Davis

With Rachel Weisz (Sarah Churchill), Emma Stone (Abigail Masham), Olivia Colman (Queen Anne)

Emma Stone

Emma Stone as Abigail Masham
in “The Favourite”
Photo: Yorgos Lanthimos
© 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

A bawdy, wonderfully nasty period piece about two power-seeking women who stop at nothing to go up against one another.

Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) ruled England and Scotland from 1702-1714, having inherited the throne from her uncle Charles II. She had seventeen pregnancies, none of which survived. Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), is Queen Anne’s confidante and close aide, and, as elaborated in this script based on certain historic hints, intimately close. Sarah wields power with extreme authority and assurance and essentially tells the fairly witless queen what to do. Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) shows up on the scene, not exactly telling the truth about her own provenance, and climbs the ladder very quickly from scullery maid to the Duchess of Marlborough’s attendant. But Abigail will stop at nothing and before long she and the Duchess of Marlborough are at one another’s throats. Meanwhile, a war goes on outside – one of the French and Indian Wars – but, apart from dramatizing the manipulative politics of funding it, the battle of the female attendants on the home front remains much more vivid.

What a mean, funny, nasty little scream of a film this is, with two exquisitely self-assured actresses taking on the battle of wits, libidos and sometimes fists in the effort to get where they want to go. The script is unbarred and full of nasty language and seems to revel in the fact that women, even in period dress, seem to have had unbarred mouths and even less barred erogenous zones. At least, it all looks that way in the court as presented here, and though surely full of reactive mythologizing, it’s plenty of a good time imagining quite otherwise than much of period literature and film of this sort presents it.

At the outset one can’t quite get down how totally bitchy Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough is, until one sees the power struggles that ensue. She is a commander writ large, superb in her arrogance and capacity, not one to be played with. There sorts of portrayals have been left for actresses who took on Elizabeth I – Glenda Jackson, Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett – but she was pretty much alone in her historic perch as capable, strong and arrogant enough to get her way. The beauty of the script here is watching Abigail begin to take on these qualities, and vividly begin to display the benefits and liabilities of power.

Rachel Weisz as Sarah Churchill, Olivia Colman as Queen Anne in 'The Favourite'

Rachel Weisz as Sarah Churchill
Olivia Colman as Queen Anne
in “The Favourite”
Photo: Yorgos Lanthimos
© 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

There is no doubt that these two magnificently strong and witty actresses, Weisz and Stone, are perfect for these parts. Each can be strong as nails but capable of the sorts of vulnerabilities that ride just beneath the surface and against which they operate.

In some sense, this is a man’s game in women’s clothing. Though lesbian sex adds a new wrinkle to the power plays, the relations and operations between the women are about manipulation and control. Though it’s not a revolutionary vision, the depiction has moments of considerable hilarity. This well-done film, crisply written and put together, though very loosely based on historical fact, is full of oddball touches that, along with its celebration of spiteful rivalry, makes it into a delightfully poisonous romp.

– BADMan

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