Hell hath no fury...
Scorned women abound in a darkly comic period piece about Anne, Queen of Great Britain (with Olivia Colman, a shoo-in for the Oscar win) and her closest confidante, Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough (a chilling Rachel Weisz). But really, "The Favourite" is about best friends Anne and Sarah, and the woman who comes between them.
- The only word to describe furnishings like that is "lush," right?
Shot throughout with grandly isolating wide lenses and lush visual detail, the film paints a portrait of two extraordinarily powerful women not only attempting to navigate their way through a world set up to revel in the success of men, but also sharing a friendship that is both vulnerably intimate and politically precarious.
Sarah rubs the queen's legs and opens her mail. She sets the schedule and decides who gets an audience with the queen. Anne is so unfathomably lonely and isolated that her connection to Sarah is one of desperation and vulnerability. Anne would let Sarah set foreign policy just as long as she keeps her company for a while longer.
Enter Abigail (a never-better Emma Stone), a fresh-faced, fallen former aristocrat whose innocence and unassuming sincerity make her an instantly likable underdog. Assigned as a servant to Sarah, she uses her innate combination of tender concern and sharp insights to ingratiate herself with the ailing queen. Soon Sarah and Abigail are politely warring over who gets to rub river mud into Queen Anne's gouty open sores while the country under her rule devours itself with endless war and political upheaval.
"The Favourite" is certainly rich historical drama, but its focus on Queen Anne rests on her womanhood, not her queendom. The efficacy of her political power expands and crumbles at the whims of her appetites, and all the other characters know this far better than she does. When the future of the civilized world very much depends on treating Anne's horniness, loneliness, illness and depression with a sort of gentle control, a precariousness exists in every word spoken. The scope is at once as big as the nation and as small as the bedroom.
This whole struggle takes place in a setting of decadent grandeur that doesn't so much border on the absurd as squat and rub its junk on it. Every wall is tapestried, every ceiling is carved, every person is wigged and powdered and jeweled and chinless and rich and bored. In her robes and crown, Queen Anne belongs in this environment of delusional aristocrats. With her nightgown, bedhead and crazy eyes, she is achingly human and small in a palace and a position that dwarfs her. All she needs is a friend. Who is it going to be?
This film is a love story, but not one packaged for mass appeal. It's a sexual romp and a political drama and a character study, but it isn't interested in meeting audience expectations. It would rather draw you into a world where racing ducks is sophisticated entertainment, raw liver is used as a cure for gout and the aristocracy would topple kingdoms just for a nicer place to sleep and a better view out the portcullis. All Queen Anne wants is to be seen and loved for who she is, and her tragic need for that is real and relatable, despite the alien absurdity of the setting. What is love, really? "The Favourite" poses the question, but will give you nothing resembling easy answers.