Has there been a costume drama psycho-sexual thriller black comedy? Well, either way, now there is thanks to The Favourite, the latest cult-worthy effort from Yorgos Lanthimos. The director has never been one to restrict himself to a succinct genre, and The Favorite is no different. Lanthimos mixes elements of things like Barry Lyndon, Single White Female, and Rushmore into a cocktail that—who’d have thought?—may be his most broadly palatable yet.
Broadchurch star Olivia Colman stars as Queen Anne, a role that lets her combine her wide-eyed, queenly Hyde Park on Hudson and soon-to-be The Crown role (Elizabeth) with the kind of hilarious character work she did on That Mitchell and Webb Look. Her Anne is an ineffectual leader, almost childlike, and wasting away by the leg and the day. That leaves the lion’s share of Great Britain’s governance to Rachel Weisz’s Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. She’s the Dick Cheney-with-benefits to Anne’s George W. Bush, accepting the idle monarch’s lust and tantrums in exchange for behind-the-scenes influence (not that she’s hating the attention, either). Her cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) soon shows up, hoping to serve the Queen, and it turns out she’s just as power-hungry and open to clandestine lesbianism as Sarah—and more conniving, too. Her arrival leads to a dramatic, often quite funny power struggle to win Anne’s ear and other orifices.
Like its ill queen, though, The Favourite ends up withering a bit, needing its stars to prop it through a final act that’s lost a bit of the film’s earlier momentum. So it’s lucky that the lead trio is damned near perfect in this thing, mixing subtle contempt and dry comedy in equal measure. Nicholas Hoult—effete, wigged, and powdered—turns in a smaller but worthwhile performance, the Mad Max: Fury Road star once again doing his most enjoyable work from behind a white dusting. And, continuing the Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Lobster, and Dogtooth’s director’s animal fascination, rabbits, ducks, birds, and lobsters also make prominent appearances.
When awards nominations start getting doled out next year, The Favourite should almost certainly be in the conversation in numerous categories. As a picture, and for its directing, its beautiful cinematography (often shot low and exceedingly wide, as playfully distorted as the film’s history), its costumes, its set design, and its performances—most notably, the already deservedly-praised Colman. Given that she essentially shares the lead with Weisz and Stone, it may be a fight for her to actually get a leading role Academy Award. But as for a Golden Globe—in the comedy/musical category, rightly—she should be, goddammit, yes, the favorite.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Runtime: 120 minutes
Cast: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult