Equal parts malice, mirth, pomp and puerility—and deliberately never in balance—The Favourite is a delicious unstitching of the costume drama. Its threesome of powerful women--Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone)--hunger for love, favor and power, and its superb trio of actress is destined for Oscar nods in one of the most-anticipated films of award season.
Director/provocateur Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) sets The Favourite spinning with a dizzying carousel of R-rated seductions, ballroom breakdancing, fruit tossing at naked men for sport and the occasional duck and lobster races. But just as quickly, Lanthimos slams on the brakes and brings The Favourite to a screeching halt, leaving its audience a bit woozy as it comes to come to grips with a sedentary Queen Anne, who is clearly not well. It's well documented that the 18th-century monarch was plagued by incessant poor health and required a wheelchair, even as a young woman. She was notoriously meek, suffered from severe gout and joint ailments, and had a very limited education, leaving her highly susceptible to manipulation.
Here's an example of the film's sudden swings from giddy highs to heartbreaking lows: Early on in The Favourite, we learn that Anne considers her 17 bunny rabbits her best friends. Charming, right? But about an hour later, Anne whispers that she has one rabbit for each of her 17 dead children. It's one of those stunning moments when you can literally feel your heart sink.
"Some of them were born in blood. Some were born with breath. And others..." Anne pauses and looks to the floor. "Well, a few others were with me for a very, very short time. Each one of them took a part of me."
To be sure, the history of Queen Anne has been veiled and, at least compared to most other British monarchs, very little has been chronicled of the infamously shy, sick and disregarded woman. Yet Anne reigned as Britain navigated a tidal wave of change, ultimately becoming a greater global power. She oversaw a war with France, considered the first world war of modern times; and it was she who ruled when England and Scotland united to forge the Kingdom of Great Britain. She also confronted the shocking new era of acrimonious national division between Whigs and Tories that gave birth to a two-party political system.
Nevertheless, The Favourite takes place in a very insular world, playing out at times like a bedroom farce with global consequences. To that end, it is a comic tragedy. At its heart is a female triangle: the outwardly outrageous and inwardly grieving Anne; the sharp and alluring Lady Churchill (Weisz), a war-monger and political advisor to the Queen; and Masham (Stone), who was reduced to destitution by family bankruptcy but seeks opportunity through Queen Anne's attraction to her overtly sexual nature.
The film features gorgeous costumes and set designs, and Lanthimos glides his camera through their gilded facades, always looking for something alluring (he usually finds it in Anne's bedchamber). On that note, a word of caution: This is not your run-of-the-mill Judi Dench-like costume melodrama. There's plenty of sex here, and liberal use of the "C" word—and yes, a bit of blood, too.
Ultimately, The Favourite is a showcase of three actresses at the top of their games. In any other film, two actresses above the title would be a marvel. Three is stupendous. But above all, this is Colman's movie, and in case you haven't heard, she's also assuming the throne as the new Elizabeth in Netflix's The Crown. Next year should be a landmark one for Colman, who up until now has been fairly under the radar. By this time in 2019, she will undoubtedly be one of the best-known and most-loved actresses on the planet. Long may she reign.