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The Favourite

The Favourite
An intimate tale of lust, power, betrayal, and passion told on an impossibly lavish scale, the 2018 epic The Favourite is the period costume drama for people who hate period costume dramas. This is one of those films that breaks all the rules of its genre and never apologizes for it.

The setting is 18th century England and the country is at war with France. Queen Anne, the current ruler of Greta Britain has fallen ill and her good friend Lady Sarah Marlborough rushes to her side and ends up running the country in Anne's stead. A new skullery maid named Abigail arrives at the castle and endears herself to Sarah who allows Abigail to assist in the Queen's care, a situation that Abigail takes advantage of to the point that a very ugly romantic triangle begins to brew between the three women that not only affects their lives, but all of England as well.

Once again, this reviewer has found himself privy to an alleged piece of history that was news to him. Nevertheless, this breathtaking period piece was so completely intoxicating that whether or not it was factual became irrelevant pretty quickly. Granted, if it did happen, the cinematic presentation was a lot more uncompromising in the raw quality it brings to a sexually charged story where the bawdy debauchery is only partially disguised by elegant settings and amazing costumes. The Oscar-nominated screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara utilizes a plethora of contemporary adult language that I seriously doubt was part of 17th century language, but it was an advantageous storytelling tool that made this story a lot easier to understand and infinitely more entertaining. It even contained title cards for each chapter of the story like a Woody Allen movie!

Director Yorgos Lanthimos uses different kinds of symbolism to move story in ways that we almost don't notice. The scenes of Sarah and Abigail skeet shooting seemed to simultaneously recap and foreshadow what was going on in their relationship with the Queen. The extraordinary camerawork which featured a variation on the fish eye lens in several scenes with the Queen served as a perfect metaphor for the prison that the Queen felt her illness was trapping her in.

It is the Queen's illness and her battle with it that really becomes the heartbeat of this movie as we watch a woman unable to control the ravishment of her body and also unable to control her anger about it. This queen begins as funny and a little sad but as the story progresses, she becomes explosive and unpredictable, but her delight when she realizes that Sarah and Abigail are fighting over her is a joy to watch because it's the only joy the character really experiences in this story. Sadly, her joy envelops her to the point that we know there's no way it can last. It's equally compelling watching the slow burn of the rivalry between Sarah and Abigail, which reaches a level of ugly bitchiness that defies desctiption.

Director Lanthimos must also be credited for the lavish canvas he mounts this story in, taking a simple romantic triangle and promoting it to epic proportions. The expensive production values include Oscar worthy production design, set direction (the Queen's bedroom is glorious) and I'm pretty sure Sandy Powell will win a fourth Oscar for Outstanding Costume Design.

Lanthimos' best work though is the rich performances he pulled from his three leading ladies. Olivia Colman has already won a Golden Globe and received an Oscar nomination for for her sad and delightfully unhinged Queen Anne, another post graduate acting course to be devoured by connoisseurs of the craft. Oscar winner Rachel Weicz could be a dark horse and win a second statue for her powerhouse Lady Sarah and Emma Stone finally delivers a performance worthy of an Oscar as the manipulative Abigail that earned her a nomination as well. Also loved Nicholas Hoult as Harley and the offbeat musical score which effectively frames the proceedings. A delicious piece of entertainment that entranced this reviewer from beginning to end.