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With: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, Mark Gatiss, James Smith, Jenny Rainsford
Written by: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity and language
Running Time: 119
Date: 11/16/2018

The Favourite (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Yorgos Lanthimos adds a dose of wicked, whiplash humor to his usual sense of bleakness in this largely effective costume movie, filled with deep-focus visuals and strong, ferocious women.

In The Favourite, it's England in the 18th century and Abigail (Emma Stone) heads to the palace. There, her cousin, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) works for, and is the close confidante (and sometime lover) of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). At first, Abigail is asked to work in the scullery as a maid, where she is picked on by cruel co-workers. Meanwhile, Lady Sarah is more or less running things, taking charge of the war on France during the queen's frequent bouts of illness or sulking.

Abigail sees an opportunity to improve her station by preparing a homemade salve for the queen's gout. With Lady Sarah away running things, Abigail becomes ever closer to the queen and even seduces her. But when Lady Sarah realizes her position is threatened, she starts an all out war, a war that the crafty Abigail herself is only too qualified to fight.

Lanthimos's previous movies, like Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, were relentlessly dystopian and malicious, and The Favourite continues that wordview; there are few, if any, good people in his movies. But this time, thanks perhaps to a screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, the bad behavior can inspire laughter.

It helps that both Stone and Weisz are so good, and so brilliantly cast, in their roles. Most actors in these kinds of movies tend to get swallowed up by the costumes, the stiff dialogue, and the stagnant visuals. But Stone is clever, perky, and playful, and Weisz is cool, decisive, and sensual; they clash beautifully.

Lanthimos employs an ultra-wide-angle lens that causes rooms to warp as it pans, and this creates a distinctly off-kilter quality, adding to the nightmarishness of the world. (It also makes things a bit more kinetic.) But in the end, the back-and-forth between the two women doesn't really have an ending, and The Favourite finally drags on too long and, in the final stretch, fizzles out. Thankfully, Olivia Colman's winning, unfettered performance as the petulant queen is a memorable takeaway.

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