The Favourite, a favourite

Aoibhín Bryant

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite dresses up a witty tragic comedy in a period drama. Set during the Georgian era, the plot follows two cousins, Sarah (Rachel Wiesz) and Abigail (Emma Stone), fighting for the affection of Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman), whose mental state rapidly declines throughout the film.

Set to the backdrop of the Spanish War of Succession, Queen Anne is riddled with gout and leaves the running of the show to her childhood friend, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. Abigail Hill, a former aristocrat whose future was swindled by her gambling father, returns to court to plea to her distant cousin, Sarah, for a job as a servant in the palace. However, Abigail slowly begins to move her way up the ranks by indulging in the Queen’s wishes, threatening Sarah’s position as the Queen’s confidante and secret lover.

Bizarrely, this is one of Lanthimos’ most conventional movies in comparison to both The Lobster and Killing of A Sacred Deer. Yet it still possesses a large range of quirks and is a divergence of the typical historical drama. The stiff and proper setting and costumes is contrasted with characters’ behaviour and dialogue, such as the word “vajuju” being used.

Each main actress delivers excellence in their respective roles. Coleman as delirious Queen Anne is brilliant, possessing a great comedic timing, which shouldn’t be a surprise if you watched Coleman in  Peep Show. She balances the comedy with her more melancholic acting, capturing the hearts of the audience as we learn about her various maladies. Queen Anne, who had 18 pregnancies in her lifetime, outlived all of her children and superficially replaced each one with a rabbit.

Rachel Weisz as the headstrong and calculated Sarah and Emma Stone as the ingenue Abigail have a great dynamic as they play out their contemptuous family relationship turned to a out-and-out rivalry. It is interesting to note that each male character is portrayed as more pompous and sillier than any of the leading ladies. The men are dressed up in bright colours with powdered wigs and coral blush while the womens’ wardrobe is more subdued with earthier tones and simpler hairstyles. Despite how at this time, men were the leading statesman and held greater power, the film tries to point that it was the women, such as Sarah and Abigail, running the show with their wit and charms.

The script was originally penned in 1998 by Deborah Davis and revised and updated by Tony McNamara, however it found difficulty in being picked up by major recording studios due to its LGBT subject matter and lack of leading male characters. The Favourite proves that although these might have been off putting to a mainstream audience even a couple of years prior, in 2018 with the emergence of the #MeToo movement and a greater acceptance of LGBT+ people, a film about lesbian royals can be a box office hit and scoop the most Academy Award nominations.

The Favourite is a must-see film to watch during Oscars season, incorporating witty and dark comedy alongside a dramatic tragedy that keeps the viewer on edge throughout the entirety of the film. Without spoiling, the final scene will leave the viewer perplexed and uncomfortable as they vacate the screening. This is one of Lanthimos’ greatest works and the dynamic between the three leading actresses helps this film truly come to life and excel in its field.

Aoibhín Bryant

Image Credit: TheHarvardCrimson