Do we really need another period piece about the English monarchy? Haven’t we seen enough of them already? Well, yes. But “The Favourite” is not a stuffy portrait about royalty. It’s a semi-dramatic satire of power and control all too pertinent in today’s world, one that delights in interesting characters and sublime plot.
In the early 18th century, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is frail and reliant on “friend” Lady Sara (Rachel Weisz) to run the country. When Lady Sara’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, she offers her a job in the castle, but Abigail has her sights set on regaining her economic status and works to gain the queen’s favor at Sara’s expense. A war towards becoming the queen’s favorite ensues.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, the film is an allegory on the nature of power and how those who seek it doom themselves because of the lengths they go.
The men are seen more as frivolous dolls to the machinations of the women around them, the film a testament on feminine strength and ambition. For Sara and Abigail, their quest for power runs through Anne’s favor and they use love, healing, connection and friendship to gain that favor. In the end, they have nothing because of their greed, a very elemental, classical theme.
The rich are pompous and petty and the poor are morose and misused. It mirrors a current climate of wage disparity and also highlights Abigail’s fears of being a commoner. When not being wealthy is so abysmal, doing everything in your power to become important seems logical.
As for Queen Anne, the constant pandering to her childish whims is indicative of fascist leanings, our leaders blind to self-serving idolatry, fake worship leading to personal disaster. As in “King Lear” when the king asks “Which of you shall we say doth love us most?”, ego portends ruin.
More than just classical themes however, the film does a great job of building character and inner conflicts. If Abigail gets everything she wants, is she happy? Does Queen Anne know she is being manipulated and using it to her advantage? Does Lady Sara actually care for Queen Anne or does she just use her for her own agenda? Like any good film, these questions are only posed and never answered, and often does so is painfully hilarious ways.
“The Favourite” is a very good film, one of the best of the year, and it seems built to last.