I couldn't help but chuckle as the closing credits for Yorgos Lanthimos' The Favourite were winding down and I found myself picturing Donald Trump as Queen Anne, a frail and bumbling idiot who somehow manages to be atop a grand empire despite being more interested in bawdy affairs, social events, and almost iconic misperceptions of oneself.
This means, of course, that I also pictured our beloved Vice-President, Mike Pence, as Lady Sarah, giggle, who for all intents and purposes actually runs the country quietly behind the scenes. As I continued to chuckle, I struggled to pinpoint just exactly who might qualify as Abigail, a seemingly loyal servant with more than a few ulterior motives.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Maybe. Kellyanne Conway? Entirely possible.
You'll just have to decide for yourself. That's exactly what I recommend you do. The Favourite is easily Lanthimos' most accessible film to date, though calling it actually accessible would be much like that time a friend invited me out to lunch at a restaurant he swore was wheelchair friendly only for me to arrive and find the only way to enter was a 20-step staircase.
Working for the first time off of someone else's script, in this case that of Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, Yorgos Lanthimos has crafted one of 2018's most deliciously dark and downright nasty films set in the early 18th century with England at war with France and a frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupying the throne while her good friend and trusted confidante Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) actually running the country with a gleam in her eyes.
When a new servant and distant cousin of Sarah's named Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, Sarah takes an immediate liking to her and takes the young girl under her wings not quite realizing what she's getting herself into at all. With Sarah increasingly involved in dealing with the war at hand, Abigail begins to take Sarah's place alongside Queen Anne. Before long, it becomes clear that Abigail has won the Queen's affections in every sense of that word and she and Sarah become entwined in an increasingly bitter, dark, and bitingly funny battle for life, love, lust, and a whole lot of power.
The Favourite is pitch black comedy at its finest with our leading trio at the top of their games across the board. While we've seen Colman and Weisz tackle this kind of acting before, it's revelatory for Stone and she absolutely steals the show.
Somehow, Lanthimos manages to keep The Favourite from ever derailing, its wild and chaotic comedy matched with such complete and utter precision that you can't help but marvel at the wonder of it all. So often when you watch a period piece such as The Favourite, you feel a certain restraint taking hold. With The Favourite, however, Lanthimos directs as if he's been vigorously and enthusiastically freed from all restraint and he's guided his extraordinary ensemble in a similar direction.
While Lanthimos films are frequently intoxicating and thought-provoking and brilliantly manifested, The Favourite may very well be the first one that is genuinely fun, in fact quite the blast, to watch. I laughed heartily, cringed often, giggled like a schoolboy, blushed a little and just had a really good time watching this film.
The Favourite centers itself around concepts of power, both interpersonal and universal. While the film will mean different things to different people, it's clear early on that Rachel Weisz's Lady Marlborough is using her love meets powerful influence over Colman's Queen Anne to further her own political ideas and supporting the war against France while Harley (a barely recognizable Nicholas Hoult) quietly seethes and plots ways to gain entrance into Queen Anne's circle.
Everyone involved will do anything, and I mean anything <wink>, to get to the Queen.
Beyond the film's utterly fantastic ensemble cast, kudos must be given to Fiona Crombie for a fantastical yet realistic production that is perfectly complemented by Sandy Powell's costume design and Robbie Ryan's wide-lensing awe-inspiring camera work.
There's no question, of course, that The Favourite plays loose with the facts and even largely expands upon theories, especially those of the romantic kind, that have been mostly debunked by the experts. Who cares? You'll be so busy having yourself a snarky, devilishly fun and good ole' time that you're not about to sit back and start picking apart the film's historical inaccuracies.
Now then, go ahead and watch the film. Then sit down and watch a Trump press conference and tell me you don't think of the same exact thing.
I dare ya.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic