Here is the film you’ve all been waiting for. The Favourite has been showered with awards, notably Olivia Coleman, who took the Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA for her extraordinary performance as Queen Anne. Rachel Weisz won a BAFTA as Best Supporting Actress and the film took Outstanding British Film of the Year. It also won BAFTAs for Original Screenplay Makeup, Costume and Design.
Early 18th century. England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the Queen’s companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfill her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.
The Favourite, with a profane, erudite script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, is a farce with teeth, a costume drama with sharp political instincts and an aggressive sense of the absurd. Anne’s court is populated by vain creatures in sky-high curly wigs and elaborately painted faces. Their pastimes include vicious sexual gossip, indoor duck racing and throwing rotten fruit at naked people. That accounts for the men, who also hold onto most of the power. Even with Anne as head of state, patriarchy rules the realm, and women interested in power, autonomy or survival must navigate the hostile territory of male domination.
This does not mean that the women are passive or innocent victims. On the contrary. The busy, buzzing plot of The Favourite is propelled by scheming, double-crossing and manipulation among its three main female characters. Anne, plagued by gout, grief and self-pity, functions as the hypotenuse of a discreet erotic and political triangle, the other legs of which are Abigail (Emma Stone) and Sarah (Rachel Weisz). Sarah, who has known the queen since they were children, is her lover as well as her adviser in governmental matters. An ally of the parliamentary leader (James Smith) and the wife of an important military commander (Mark Gatiss), she pushes for war with France and heavy taxes on landowners. Abigail plays the role of wide-eyed ingénue, a masquerade that conceals formidable skills in psychological and physical combat. She cultivates an allegiance with the head of the opposition (Nicholas Hoult), a bond based on common interest and mutual disgust. Abigail fights dirty because a hard upbringing has taught her no fight is ever fair. Sarah accepts her as a protégée and is a bit too slow to recognize her as a rival.
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