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The Favourite Movie Review

The Favourite (2018) movie poster The Favourite

Theatrical Release: November 23, 2018 / Running Time: 119 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos / Writers: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara

Cast: Olivia Colman (Queen Anne), Emma Stone (Abigail Hill), Rachel Weisz (Lady Sarah Churchill), Nicholas Hoult (Earl Robert Harley), Joe Alwyn (Samuel Masham), James Smith (Godolphin), Mark Gatiss (Lord Marlborough), Jenny Rainsford (Mae)


Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos caught the film world's attention with his English language debut, 2016's The Lobster, a unique, dark comedy whose favorable reviews and arthouse-strong ticket
sales helped pave the way for a surprising Best Original screenplay nomination at the Academy Awards. A year later, Lanthimos followed that up with something even better, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, an offbeat psychological thriller that fewer saw and appreciated.

Another year brings another Lanthimos movie and the expectation is that his latest, The Favourite, is the one that cements his credentials and earns him widespread accolades. Unfortunately, despite the thick buzz, Favourite feels like a step backwards for its maker, who, instead of writing this with Efthimis Filippou like his last two, films a screenplay penned by the UK's unproven Deborah Davis and TV-seasoned Tony McNamara. Davis and McNamara have written something more conventional and less vibrant than Lanthimos' past efforts: a period drama set in England's monarchy in the early 18th century.

Moody, infantile Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) rules her country with much help from Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), a trusted aide who does much of the administration's heavy lifting for her. One day, Abigail (Emma Stone), a little-known cousin of Sarah shows up looking for work. Abigail once had status, but now does not and she is grateful even to be hired as a skullery maid.

Olivia Colman plays Queen Anne and Rachel Weisz is her trusted longtime aide Lady Sarah Churchill in Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Favorite."

Sneaking in to see the Queen and rubbing her leg wounds with a soothing herb, Abigail catches the Queen's eye. In fact, soon Sarah is threatened by how much her employer/friend/confidante suddenly values this classless cousin of hers. Abigail, meanwhile, discovers that the Queen and Sarah are more than just friends. Soon, Abigail is more than just a friend to her royal highness. While rising the ranks of the monarchy, the young, charming Abigail secretly dishes inside information to Earl Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult) and also sparks up a romance with nobleman Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn).

While the originality of his and Filippou's storytelling is missed, Lanthimos does demonstrate his gifts as a director. The Favourite is full of flourish and boasts some marvelous compositions with its vast sets and considerable ambition. Personally, I find it difficult to marvel at technique when it isn't tied to a compelling story and characters. That is the case here. While Lanthimos likely punched up the script he was delivered, with characters spicing up their dialogue with liberal uses of the F and C words, there isn't a ton of intrigue or empathy generated by the narrative, which expects you to be way more invested in its twisted triangle than I was.

Kudos to the production for successfully transporting us to a time and place. There is whimsical escape supplied by the giant wooden doors, the endless hallways and gardens, and formalities of wigs and flattery. There's also a great chance you never warm to any of these unlikable, backbiting personalities or care about their connivances. Weisz and Stone are among the better actors around and both of them do what they can with their roles, which are expected to earn them serious consideration in Best Supporting Actress awards categories. But if you feel anything other than disinterest towards the aides they portray, it is probably loathing.

In "The Favourite", Abigail (Emma Stone) rises from skullery maid to close friend and more to Queen Anne.

Colman, whose recent confirmation of Lead Actress designation was greeted with significance by awards pundits and prognosticators, has the benefit of having seventeen rabbits in her room (one for every child she's had who didn't make it past childhood, if he or she even made it out of the womb). Celebrated for her work in films (Tyrannosaur) and television ("The Night Manager", "Broadchurch", and the upcoming next season of "The Crown"), the actress here enjoys the brightest spotlight she ever has.
But the characterization doesn't fill you with hope for the doors this performance might open. You kind of expect she'll just continue to work with Yanthimos from time to time (they first teamed up on Lobster) and she'll get thought of for the kinds of supporting roles that over-40 actresses who aren't Meryl Streep typically have to settle for.

Lavished with praise from critics since premiering at Venice at the end of August, The Favourite is widely expected to compete for major awards. Oscar is historically enticed by historical fare, particularly in some of the same technical areas where this film shines. It's likely a lock to win Costume Design and probably Production Design too. But the movie fails on some level by being unable to keep you guessing and caring. I can only hope that this represents a departure for Lanthimos and that any awards season attention doesn't require us to bid goodbye to the inventive weirdo who wrote Lobster and Deer.

Related Reviews:
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Now in Theaters: Green Book Can You Ever Forgive Me? Boy Erased
Emma Stone: Magic in the Moonlight La La Land Gangster Squad The Help Easy A
Olivia Colman: The Iron Lady Murder on the Orient Express I Give It a Year Hot Fuzz
Rachel Weisz: Complete Unknown The Light Between Oceans Oz the Great and Powerful
The Other Boleyn Girl Love & Friendship The King's Speech The Queen Richard III

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Reviewed October 27, 2018.

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