Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), and her servant Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) engage in a sexually charged fight to the death for the body and soul of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) at the height of the War of the Spanish Succession.
After a steady decline from his stunning debut Dogtooth, Director Yorgos Lanthimos returns to form – and beyond – with a refreshingly salacious pre-Victorian comedy, The Favourite. From the first frame, the elaborate mise-en-scène creates a spectacle of ludicrous grandeur. Lanthimos calls on extreme wide angles and blooming highlights to manifest heavenly, diabolical extravagance. Candlelight and majestic decor make every frame a renaissance painting. Throw in a slow-motion duck race and those ridiculous curly white wigs, and you’ve got an extravaganza of a cinematic experience worth watching multiple times over.
Combined with the aforementioned mise-en-scène, a transgressive and free-wheeling narrative facilitates a wild ride through a hilarious and somewhat anachronistic Queen Anne’s palace. Razor-sharp dialogue and bizarre contemporary dance scenes provide a heavy dose of comedy, while much looser editing and cinematography appease the cinephile’s devotion to Lanthimos’ ineffable sensibility that caught eyes in Dogtooth. To top it off, the audience is treated to the love triangle like none before.
“…a sexually charged fight to the death for the body and soul of Queen Anne at the height of the War of the Spanish Succession.”
Matriarchy, an uncommon occurrence in both cinema and reality, makes for novel circumstances that defy the stale machismo typical of this type of historical narrative. Devious contenders for the Queen’s hand resort to nefarious tactics to claim Queen Anne’s love, and perhaps her immeasurable endowment as well. “I will need to act in a way that meets with the edges of my morality,” says Abigail, played by Telluride darling Emma Stone. Referring to the scarcity of films with three female protagonists, Stone praised the film as “a unicorn in a corset.”