If there is one film genre that can turn me off when done wrong, it is the period costume drama. Case in point: Just a few weeks ago, I watched Mary: Queen of Scotts
. And yet, I could not review it. I tried, dear reader. Oh, how I did try. I had many false starts at a review. However, the film was such a total bore and filled me with a feeling of such total indifference, I simply could not assemble my thoughts without repeating the phrase "this movie bored the crap out of me" over and over. It was the only thought the turgid drama was able to inspire within me.
Now we have The Favourite
, and director Yorgos Lanthimos (2015's The Lobster
) has inspired not just a review, but one of the better films of 2018's list of Oscar nominees. From its three leading lady performances, to the screenplay which perfectly balances tragedy with razor-sharp comedy, this was a delight for me to watch after my previous experience. Olivia Colman has rightfully earned just about every award recognition in the book for her portrayal of Queen Anne, who ruled England during the 18th century, mostly from her bed. Stricken with gout, and surrounding herself with 17 rabbits to replace the 17 children that she has birthed and lost by this point, Colman finds both the tragedy and the humor in her portrayal, and it is something to witness.
Not to be outdone in the acting category is Rachel Weisz, who plays Lady Sarah Churchill. She represents the Queen when she cannot leave her chambers, and also sleeps with her to ensure that Sarah's husband Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss) continues to get Anne's support as he is off commanding Britain's war with the French. Early in the film, we are introduced to Abigail Hill (the always wonderful Emma Stone, who is sensational here). She is Sarah's cousin, and a noble lady herself whose family has fallen on hard times due to the debts her gambler father has collected. She has nowhere to go but to beg to her cousin for a position as a scullery maid at the palace. She even has to approach Lady Sarah with her clothes tattered and covered with mud, as she is literally kicked out of the coach and into the mud when she first arrives. However, it does not take long until Abigail is scheming her way to a better life within the castle. She quickly finds herself in Anne's favor, and even her bed, after she tracks down a remedy for the Queen's gout. This leads to jealousy between Sarah and Abigail, and eventual all out war, as a bizarre love triangle grows.
has divided many viewers, and I can see why. This is an extremely dark and vengeful story about these two women doing horrible things to one another in order to gain the Queen's trust. And yet, the movie never loses its sense of humor, nor does it go into such levels of viciousness that I was turned off. It is the performances of Colman, Weisz and Stone that completely carry the film. Yes, there are men in the film, many of whom are trying to turn some of the women to their cause, and to use them to get information from the Queen about the war. But, they hardly matter. That doesn't mean they are bad performances, or underwritten characters. On the contrary. In particular, Nicholas Hoult gives a devilish and comic performance as Lord Harley, who is trying to turn Abigail to his way of thinking about the war effort. It simply means that the screenplay knows to keep the focus on the war between Sarah and Abigail for the Queen's attention, and the film is better for it, in my opinion.
This is also not your conventional costume drama. Director Lanthimos is not exactly known for being a conventional filmmaker, and while this is probably the closest he has ever come to doing a conventional movie that can be pigeonholed into a genre, he finds ways to throw in his trademark humor, and some other oddball choices. I particularly liked how the film is divided into different chapters like a book, and how the chapters had titles such as "This Mud Stinks" and "I Dreamt I Stabbed You in the Eye". But beyond these original choices, he has also made an absolutely gorgeous film, one of the better looking ones I've seen recently. From the costume design by Sandy Powell, to the sets by Fiona Crombie, this is a movie that can grab your attention simply with its sumptuous design in just about every category. Fortunately, there's a great script, some amazing performances, and an overall high energy within the visual trappings. These are all things that the previously mentioned Queen of Scotts
lacked, and why it could not inspire any thoughts within me while I was watching it, other than I felt my watch had stopped a few times.
Most of all, The Favourite
makes you care about the three women at the center of all the backstabbing and vicious actions, and I became really involved with how it would all turn out. This is a movie that manages to be shocking, hilarious, sad, thoughtful and heartfelt at various times throughout. This is a movie that can go in multiple directions, but due to the steady direction and the incredible cast, I never felt lost. This is a wonderfully structured film, and one of the best of 2018.