In the early 18th century, England is at war with the French, and while an unhealthy and frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne, her close confidant and adviser Lady Sarah Rachel Weisz) governs the country, while at the same time tending to Anne’s health and manic behavior. Matters are further complicated when Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone), who has fallen from her aristocratic status, arrives to work as a servant in the castle. After a tumultuous start, Abigail endears herself to Sarah, and while moving up in the ranks, becomes the focus of attention of the Queen, much to the chagrin of Sarah.
The Favourite in an incredibly entertaining film with dark humor that perfectly toes the line between satire and depravity. All three lead actress give amazing performances. Weisz’s Lady Sarah hides her jealousy of the Queen and Abigail’s relationship like iceberg, surfacing only the peek of its depth, while Stone’s Abigail is barely masking her desire to rise in the aristocratic hierarchy behind a layer of earnestness. As good as both of those actresses are, his movie absolutely belongs to Olivia Colman. Her Oscar-worthy performance has the queen suffering from a deep depression, stemmed from loneliness, coupled with the pressures of the responsibilities of the throne, putting her on the brink of madness.
Screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara have delivered an incredibly smart script with witty banter and an incredibly nuanced and complicated relationship triangle between Sarah, Anne and Abigail. Expect to see Oscar nods for Davis and McNamara for their efforts. I also expect to see Oscar nominations for set designer Fiona Crombie and costume designer Sandy Powell as well, both of which are exquisite.
Seasoned cinematographer Robbie Ryan deserves a lot of the credit for the success of this film. It is not only beautifully shot, but he also made some pretty gutsy choices here that really paid off. Fisheye lens and extreme low angles don’t always work, especially in a period piece such as this, but they service the story perfectly.
If I have one complaint with the film, it’s that it loses much of its momentum late in the third act, accumulating in a climax that is less than satisfactory. There is a bold editing choice in the film’s finale, and while I took no issue with that stylistic decision, it resulted in providing only a hint of resolve to the story. I felt it was a disservice to the incredible work that preceded it.
That small issue aside, The Favourite is an extraordinary film supported by witty dialogue, a nuanced story and incredible performances, marred only slightly by a weak finale.