“The Favourite” is technically a period dramatic comedy, but the film is so much more than a simple “Downton Abbey” episode on the big screen. Set in early 18th-century England. “The Favourite” is something different — something special.
“The Favourite,” which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this year but entered theaters nationwide Nov. 23, has drawn rave reviews from other critics, and with good reason. Every aspect of the film is incredibly well done and the overall final product is an entertaining experience.
Three fantastic lead performances dominated the film. Olivia Colman (“Murder on the Orient Express,” “The Lobster”) plays a haggard Queen Anne whose physical and mental health is deteriorating at a rapid rate. Rachel Weisz (“The Lobster,” “Disobedience”) portrays Anne’s close friend, a political strategist and occasional lover Lady Sarah.
The trio is rounded out by Academy Award winner Emma Stone (“La La Land,” “Zombieland”), who continues to grow as a dramatic actress. Stone plays a former aristocrat named Abigail who arrives at the Queen’s palace as a humble slave. Her family connection to Lady Sarah provides Abigail an opportunity to return to her place among the wealthy members of court when Lady Sarah takes Abigail, her cousin, into her service.
In addition to the strong female leads, the cast is bolstered by several smaller, but equally strong, performances by Nicholas Hoult (“Sand Castle,” “Dark Phoenix”) and James Smith (“The Iron Lady,” “Carnage”) who portray opposing political leaders Harley and Godolphin with a mix of humor and realistic political intrigue.
Each character plays a small, significant part in the plot of the film, and each person plays their roles to almost perfection. The actors do fantastic jobs in their roles, but Deborah Davis’s writing in her first Hollywood feature and Tony McNamara (“Ashby,” “Doctor Doctor”) make “The Favourite” powerful. Their subtle, dark comedy peppered throughout the film hits the mark.
The dialogue is fast-paced and incredibly funny, even if some of the better jokes fly under the radar as the film’s plot moves along. But the comedy isn’t limited to dialogue, there’s a significant amount of physical comedy intertwined. The ballroom scene halfway through the film is legitimately laugh out loud funny, complete with ridiculous dancing and outrageous ballroom outfits.
The constantly shifting political and emotional dynamics within the film provide a background for the conflict between Abigail and Sarah over their place in the queen’s heart. Davis and McNamara wrote an emotional and witty story that would make Aaron Sorkin proud.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster,” “Dogtooth”) makes a splash in his first major studio film. The cinematography is quite beautiful throughout, and the director makes wonderful use of lighting, shifting from dark to light then back as the film’s themes and story require.
However, Lanthimos’ use of a fisheye lens in several scenes was an interesting artistic choice that would remain better-suited for a gas station security camera than a feature-length film.
The strong writing and solid performances are strengthened through the visual effects and artistic design. The sets seem directly imported from Buckingham Palace or Louis XIV’s grandiose Palace at Versailles. The film features sweeping staircases, massive royal bedrooms and the grandeur one would expect to see inside of a queen’s palace.
It’s not just the backgrounds that look gorgeous, the costumes and outfits are equally beautiful; each character seems to have an endless wardrobe of bigger and more extravagant wigs and dresses. It’s a definite possibility that most of the film’s $150 million budget went into wigs and outfits.
“The Favourite” is an interesting and entertaining look at ambition and political maneuvering worth seeing more than once.
“The Favourite” is rated R and is in theaters nationwide.