“The Favourite” is a Favorite Waste of Time
By Joshua Savitzky
“The Favourite,” directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is a political comedy and drama set during Queen Anne’s War in the early 18th century, and reeks of a very exaggerated depiction of England’s upper class, preoccupied with drama during the day and duck racing and parties during the evening.
“The Favourite” follows an ambitious young lady named Abigail (Emma Stone), a former noblewoman, who, after the death of her father, comes to the royal palace in hopes of finding work from her cousin, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). Sarah accepts, and what follows can best be described as a coup. Sarah is the closest friend and advisor to the sick and frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and as a result is in almost complete power over England’s monarch. Parliament is divided between those who wish for the war to go on and those who wish to stop it. Abigail wishes to restore her family’s lost wealth by rising through the ranks of workers in the palace. Abigail achieves this through establishing a close connection to Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult), the leader of the opposition to the war, and teaming with him against Lady Sarah and Prime Minister Godolphin (James Smith), the two biggest proponents of the war, to take power from both inside the palace and Parliament.
The film spends its first half trying to portray Abigail as a character worthy of empathy, from her backstory of her father losing all their money through gambling and Abigail selling herself off to a brothel to pay back some of the money, to a series of bullying and unfortunate events stemming from the other maids. Immediately afterwards, the film spends the rest of the time with Abigail climbing through the ranks using every dishonest means imaginable, from sneaking into the Queen’s room to apply ointment to her wounded leg without anyone’s permission to poisoning Sarah herself to get her out of the picture for a few days. Sarah quickly catches onto Abigail’s plot and the tension between the two increases.
Olivia Colman does a fantastic job portraying Queen Anne as a sick, incompetent leader prone to wild mood swings whenever she listens to music too long. Anne’s numerous outrages are fantastically comedic and were some of the highlights of the movie. Anne reveals that she is depressed due to the loss of all 17 of her children from to miscarriage and attempts to deal with that with 17 rabbits who are very dear to her. No one else seems to care about it except for Abigail, who ends up exploiting that information. Halfway into the movie, Anne and Sarah display a very deep friendship, often abusing Anne’s power as queen to have fun, such as a ride down the hallway on Anne’s wheelchair. Then the movie reveals that the two have an even deeper relationship than that; the two have sex in the dim, firelit library, a scene witnessed by Abigail, who is looking for books to take. Surprisingly, Abigail does not use this as blackmail, which she certainly could have, but rather reveals just how far she has to go to take down Sarah.
The film’s comedy is very well done. The large number of sex jokes are very tacky and come out of nowhere but the film does use certain situations to build up very intelligent jokes, such as playful banter between Sarah and Abigail during their rounds of horseback riding and target practice, slowly becoming more hostile as the movie progresses. The payoff of such tension would have been better during the ultimate climax of the drama.
While the film is funny, it lacks in its plot and design. Those in favor of the war fear an invasion by the French as imminent if the army was not strong but everyone seems to forget that England is on an island and does not share a land border with France. When the movie tries to take itself seriously, an action that ultimately fails due to the light comedy in the rest of the movie, the musical score of the scene becomes very loud and grating to the ears, making those scenes uncomfortable instead of suspenseful. Most of the film’s ending is made up with these scenes as Abigail begins to strangle control away from Sarah and directly influence the Queen.
Overall, “The Favourite” is nothing special. It serves as a fun comedy to spend two hours watching, and something to watch if one wishes to feel a bit uncomfortable, but otherwise, there is not a whole lot of depth to its convoluted plot once the layers are peeled back.
“The Favourite” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenplay By: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
Release Date: December 21, 2018
Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, and language
Starring: Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman
Duration: 1 hour 59 minutes