“The Favourite,” the new film from director Yorgos Lanthimos, may look all prim and proper – with its “Downton Abbey” appearance on the surface.
But this is anything but another stuffy period piece. Working from a script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, Lanthimos crafted a deliciously dark comedic gold mine that’s anchored by three of the best performances of 2018.
It’s mean, nasty, vulgar and quite often a hilariously biting political satire.
“The Favourite” takes place during the final days of Queen Anne’s reign of England in the early 18th century. Anne (in an Oscar-level performance by Olivia Colman) is an unhealthy, at times disinterested and almost childlike ruler who seems to change her mind on a whim – much to the chagrin of those around her.
Anne’s closest confident is Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), who provides support and tough love – all the while encouraging the queen to continue England’s war with France.
When a new servant named Abigail (Emma Stone), Sarah’s cousin who has fallen out of favor from the aristocratic crowd she was born into, arrives and gets close to the queen, it sparks a battle of one-upmanship between Sarah and Abigal – with both vying for Anne’s affection.
From the opening scene, “The Favourite” makes clear it’s a film that is going to be uncompromising in its darkness – a whip-smart exchange of dialogue that is smart, biting political commentary.
The three leads are perfect for the smart screenplay. Colman, one of the nominees for best actress announced Tuesday, is an absolute delight. She captures the manic insecurities of Anne – but also has moments that really give her character sympathy. It’s an unflinching exercise in an actress willing to do anything asked of – and Colman does it all brilliantly.
Weisz and Stone, both nominated for best supporting actress, are also very good, especially Stone – who somewhat goes against type but does it quite well. Like Colman, both performances have layers to them that the two actresses convey quite well.
But the girls aren’t the only ones having fun, with Nicholas Hoult delivering a memorable performance as a rival politician who himself is trying to win the queen’s favor. It’s a performance full of dry wit that could easily be overlooked in a film with such great work from the three female leads.
With a cast at the top of its game to lead the way, Lanthimos has crafted a film that perhaps surpasses any of his previous films. “The Favourite” may offend some, but I found its offensiveness to be its charm. It’s one of 2018’s best films and well deserving of the 10 Oscar nominations it received Tuesday.