When Abigaill (Emma Stone) seeks the a job in the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman), she is plunged into a world of intrigue and jockeying for position. An act of kindness, garners her the Queen’s favour, but she soon realises what a dangerous game she is playing, as it puts her at odds with her powerful cousin, Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), and draws the attention of those that seek to use that friendship for political gain.
The Favourite gives you glimpse into the corridors of power, detailing the vainglorious, self serving, shit show you would expect. True this is not Trump’s White house, or the LNP back room, but the halls of the waning kingship of the Stuarts. Director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) gives us an acidic take, showing us a warts and all view, with an incredibly sharp wit. What starts off with simple verbal sparring with jockeying for position, becomes more and more nakedly aggressive and less careful of the mask of servility. Yet The Favourite maintains that bitter humour, a sharp focus on characters, and the careful implication of the ridiculous pomposity of it all… despite the lives that are effected and lost by such petty jockeying for position.
The Favourite also allows us a glimpse into the mindset of the characters at the centre of this power struggle, especially Abigail. We see how she is clinging to whatever safety she can acquire, aware of how tenuous her position is, and what failure could mean for her. Quickly we see the importance of pecking order, and the cruel methods employed to maintain it. Ironically though it is the most powerful that is seen as the most pitiful. Colman’s portrayal of Anne is screamingly funny, and yet clearly shows us a character we pity and connect to. For all the power of her position, she is broken by a tragic life, unsure of herself and capricious as a consequence. Weisz is seen as the iron fist in the velvet glove, but the beauty here is that none of the characters are exactly as they appear.
Hence The Favourite has a depth of story. Lanthimos lovingly shows the luxurious richness of the period setting, as well as the grotesquery and absurdity. Nothing is how it appears, and this will certainly reward multiple viewings, as we learn about the characters that shape this world, and the true nature of the game they play.