I’m a big fan of Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, who appeared separately in two of the movies that made my Best Of 2016 list (“Denial” and “La La Land,” respectively). Now they’re together in “The Favourite,” as power-hungry rivals scheming, manipulating, and competing for the affections of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) in early 1700s Britain. They make a fascinating triangle.
Weisz plays Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, the queen’s closest confidant, lover, and de facto decision maker. Her world is rocked by the appearance of her cousin, Abigail Hill (Stone), formerly a woman of some means now nothing more than a newly hired scullery maid. Abigail is determined to regain her status by sucking up to the queen and pushing Sarah aside — often literally. There’s also a subplot involving a war with France that can’t continue unless taxes are raised on the British people and the warring factions of parliament can come to an agreement with the Queen, whose mind is changed by whoever talked to her last.
I usually can’t stand costume dramas or anything to do with royalty, but even all the white face makeup and fake beauty marks and men in wigs didn’t spoil the fun I had watching “The Favourite.” It is quite funny at times, with good chemistry, timing, and well-executed slapstick (including literal slapping) thanks to its triumvirate of talented women in the lead roles, all sure to be nominated repeatedly during awards season. Director Yorgos Lanthimos uses a fish-eye lens at times to show the grandeur of Anne’s palace, which displays some of the most beautiful scenic design and art direction I’ve seen this year.
As a period piece, “The Favourite” is the kind of movie usually relegated to art-house theaters, whose audience may recoil a bit at some of the sexual acts (both heterosexual and lesbian), vomiting, and repeated use of the C-word — which no movie set in modern times would dare do. None of that bothered me, and I’m happy to see that it is playing in more mainstream theaters, as well. My only real disappointment is that the plot drags a bit towards the end, desperate for a climactic resolution, instead opting for a final scene that left most of us in the audience asking, “Huh?”
Still, it’s enormous fun watching Weisz, Stone, and Colman at work, so I’m giving “The Favourite” an 8.5 out of 10.