The Favourite

18th Century Cunning


26 November 2018| No Comments on The Favourite     by Sean Chavel



Yorgos Lanthimos has become a fierce force of high provocative filmmaking (“The Lobster,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”), and now he has made a costume period drama that elevates the new standard of what a costume period drama could or should be. The Favourite takes place in eighteenth century England and centers around an inept, haggard queen but Lanthimos is only vaguely interested in telling us scholastic information. What he’s saying is that there have likely been umpteenth scenarios in our world history when a royal leader has been coached by aides and servants while other esteemed politicians manipulate orders to change history their own way.

Olivia Colman is one of the lesser known monarchs as the feckless Queen Anne who hardly understands the scope of the war her country is engaged with France. Rachel Weisz is Lady Sarah Churchill, a First Lady, a chief of staff, a spokeswoman, and lover to the Queen. Emma Stone shows up as Abigail, the cousin to Churchill, who is granted the lowly position of maid but quickly plots her rise. Abigail too can assist in healing the Queen’s ailments, serve as companion, and offer sexual favors to the Queen. A discreet moment comes that the Queen is knowing that two women are squaring off with each other and competing. The Queen is also a dunce when it comes to just how far these two women will go, vicious-wise, to bring the other one down. All of this is played out, I should say, with world class acting though if you’re asking me for my favorite performance it is the daring one by Stone whose mischief is unbridled and madcap. Weisz, by the contrary, comes from the don’t-fu**-with-me school of nobility.

Lanthimos shows you things that don’t happen in other, too-square costume pictures. There are shots of all the maids sleeping together in cramped corners, or shots of the secondhand servants getting splash-on baths. The men often leer at the women, often with intent of seduction yet off-key enough to come off debauched. The dialogue is far more spikey here, far more sexually suggestive than your average tween flick. You realize women had to use their wit to much more mighty effect to fend off unwanted advances. Stone leads a man into kiss, and then bites his lip to deal with one man, and in another moments, knees a man in the crotch. There’s also, in it’s moments of gaiety, freer scenes of old century people cutting loose. Everybody got drunk and naked now and again in those times.

The film, lavish and baroque, also has some of the best cinematography of the past decade. All of it is achieved with natural lighting, and like Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon,” Lanthimos lights the night scenes by candlelight only. We often feel like we are seeing through a looking glass, like spying on specimens of the past, and uses a fisheye lens at times to achieve this.

Reducing to the film to plot (which should not be the emphasis when such richly sociology and psychology is on hand), we see the women are cunning with each other to win the queen’s favor, subverting and deceiving one another, enacting maliciousness. One of the women is just too damn cunning for her own good – we see the winning is far too one-sided apparent. The tragicomedy becomes just tragedy, yet there’s one great final scene that’s far more artistic than most films of its kind are ever allowed – a superimposed image of three things that suggest complacency by one, servitude by another, and a bevy of rabbits that is likely going to be an arbitrary and unceasing obsession.

120 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Barry Lyndon” (1975); “Dangerous Liaisons” (1988); “The Madness of King George” (1994); “The Duchess” (2008).





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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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