Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”)
Written by: Tony McNamara (“Ashby”) and Deborah Davis (debut)
“The Favourite” is unlike any costume drama you’ve ever seen. That includes filmmaker Sofia Coppola’s imaginative and underappreciated 2006 hipster biopic “Marie Antoinette,” where she uses the song “I Want Candy” in the soundtrack and sneaks a pair of blue Converse into one scene.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise if you know the eccentric and invigorating work of Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos in films like “Dogtooth” and “The Lobster,” the latter of which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay in 2016.
Although Lanthimos hands off script duties for “The Favourite” to Australian TV writer Tony McNamara and first-time writer Deborah Davis, who penned the initial screenplay over two decades ago, his fingerprints are all over it. “The Favourite” is an acerbic and abrasively funny period piece featuring three of the best female performances of the year. The film is like a formal curtsy but with a sharp knee strike to the groin.
Set in the early 18th Century, “The Favourite” is loosely based on the reign of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), the sickly crowned head who ruled Great Britain and Ireland until her death in 1714 at the age of 49. Don’t expect a history lesson here, however. Lanthimos isn’t as interested in the Restoration of the English Monarchy as he is the darker and comically absurd relationships Anne develops with her close advisor Sarah Churchill (Oscar winner Rachel Weisz), and Sarah’s cousin, Abigail Hill (Oscar winner Emma Stone), who is hired to work in the scullery.
When Abigail proves herself to be more than a servant, her and Sarah’s political posturing comes to a head as they find themselves vying for Anne’s attention. With a kingdom’s power at their fingertips, Sarah and Abigail become the year’s most intriguing adversaries as they cut each other down at every turn in an attempt to keep their high-end status from waning.
At times voyeuristic in nature, Lanthimos uses a camera lens that allows moviegoers to witness the debauchery unfold as if we are peeking through a palace peephole. In “The Favourite,” hostility and deceitfulness have never been this wickedly entertaining.