The Favourite (Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz) – Because I am not a fan of British period pieces, I didn’t want to see The Favourite despite good reviews and even though it starred two of my favorites in Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. But when it was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, I felt an obligation to go.
Well, Rachel and Emma are wonderful, both playing cool, complicated and conniving characters. Both actresses are Oscar winners, and both are nominated for Supporting Actress for this film. Incidentally, this is the third movie in five years starring Emma Stone to be nominated for Best Picture (Birdman, La La Land).
Olivia Colman is forever memorable as the sickly, mad, and enigmatic Queen Anne. The monarch is complicated, repressed, demanding, infantile, uncertain, and sexually involved with Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Weisz). Through her influence over Anne, Sarah basically runs the country and exerts her considerable influence over the British government during its current war with France. While her husband is serving in the war, Sarah placates and cares for Anne either out of duty or love; we aren’t sure.
When the queen’s disgraced distant cousin, Abagail (Stone), arrives, everything changes. Abagail, relegated to the kitchen, wants to redeem herself and be a Lady again. She impresses Sarah when she concocts an herbal salve to ease Anne’s pain following a bad case of gout. Soon, she is helping the queen in more ways than one, ingratiating herself and scheming to replace Sarah.
The Favourite is carried by these three female outstanding performers. Unlike most films of this period, the roles are reversed with dominant female characters, rendering the male characters somewhere between irrelevant and subservient. The film is helmed by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose most notable film was 2015’s The Lobster, which featured Weisz and Colman. The Favourite couldn’t be further from The Lobster but, in its way, it is just as creative. The costume and production design are fabulous, almost certainly award worthy. The dialogue is witty, a touch boorish, occasionally stiff, and always snappy.
But sometimes great components don’t add up to a great movie. This is one of those times. The Favourite is not one of my favorites of the year. The story is contrived and somewhat predictable. The sets overwhelm the screen. The film never seems to hit a consistent stride. In some ways, this plays like a sex farce. I half expected them to break into song like a Monty Python film. That would have been welcome.
When the film finishes with unreadable credits due to the inexplicable type faces and treatments Lanthimos uses throughout the movie, I was just glad it was over. Of the eight Best Picture nominees, this is near the bottom of my list.