Early 18th century. England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck-racing and pineapple-eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne, and her close friend Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne's ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant, Abigail Masham (Emma Stone), arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing, and Abigail sees a chance to return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time-consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the queen's companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfil her ambitions, and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.
Clutch the family pearls, for The favourite is not a Jane Austen or James Ivory period drama consisting of furtive glances, unfulfilled urges, honour and integrity. It is set in the 18th century, but it is a contemporary and exasperating tale of debauchery, jealousy and psychosis that will make your skin crawl. Of course, I loved it.
Off the wall, out there, weird are all terms that have been used to death and cheapened in the process. Yet, that is what comes to mind when trying to describe this film. It is rather strange – from the naked man being thrown with blood oranges, to the duck race, the fisheye lens which warps the frame, and the lilac cake-eating interspersed with lilac vomiting.
I recognise the brilliance of the filmmaker and the cast, but it is not an enjoyable movie to watch. Director Yorgos Lanthimos certainly takes a shot at humanity and our destructive proclivities. His takedown is successful because he shows you just what a perfect mix of vulnerability and vileness these creatures are. You feel empathy for them.
Which brings me to the acting. If Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone and, more importantly, Olivia Colman had not grounded their characters, had not infused them with humanity, Lanthimos’s film might have veered off too far for us to empathise with them. If anyone deserves the Oscar for Best Actress, it is Olivia Colman.
The film is visually sumptuous, thanks to incredibly detailed costumes, lavish locations, great camerawork, dimly lit scenes and perfectly precise editing. The fisheye/wide-angle, which at times warps the scene, fits in perfectly with the weirdness of the film.
I am both astounded and overjoyed at the fact that this weird, out-there, art house film has garnered ten Oscar nominations. What is happening in the world?