The Favourite

The Favourite ★★★★

The Favourite is a film about motivations and aspirations to power. More specifically, what that power is for the film’s different characters. Lanthimos’s 5th major film might be his most grounded. Where Dogtooth worked on the level of absurdity, and The Lobster on the metaphorical, The Favourite is grounded in our tangible, everyday fears. Questions of agency, loyalty, and loneliness arise.

Centrally, The Favourite follows two women as they compete for Queen Anne of Britain's affections. One Lady Marlborough, played by Rachel Weiss, is already firmly entrenched as the Queen’s lady and lover (and silent manipulator) when Emma Stone’s Abigail Hill arrives as a supposed servant to the court. Through clever cunning and clever plays, she quickly becomes the Queen’s chambermaid, allowing her nearly unfettered access to the Queen’s ear, and in some cases, her bedside. This shift in affection rocks Malborough’s world, and thus begins an ugly contest between the two, all shrouded in the shrewd politeness the the English court called for at the time. And it is in this thinly veiled politeness that most of this film’s comedy arises from.

At its core, this is a deeply funny film. Much like the awkward cadence of Lanthimos’s past films, the disconnect between feeling and language breeds ironic comedy. The film’s women cooly exchange pleasantries, only to fire unloaded flintlocks to one another in the next moment.

The film’s few men, however, are a little bit more obvious. They routinely threaten the women with violence, or simply kick them into the ditch when they don’t get their way. Nicholas Hoult plays a fantastic cabinet opposition leader, so desperate for insider gossip that he tries to play the Queen and her two ladies against one another, except the ladies both know this, and use that power play to their own advantage.

Elizabeth Coleman’s Queen Anne is a tragically incompetent woman. In the film’s most affecting moment, we learn that her 17 rabbits are meant to represent all of her children that died in infancy, and that all she wants is to have a child to love. And as the film drags, her condition deteriorates. First due to gout, and later due to a crippling stroke. This vulnerability is what her ladies exploit to get their way. Where Marlborough uses her position with the Queen to be the de facto leader of England, Lady Hill merely wants all of the luxuries of court, and has no interest in the macro influence that Marlborough had before she was cast out.

In the film’s final scene, we see Anne’s regret at casting out her childhood friend, and simultaneously we see Hill’s realization that all she wanted wasn’t all she bargained for. Nobody in this film ends up happy, and we’re left to wonder just how far England will fall after this monumental shift in the power structure behind court’s closed doors.

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