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The Favourite

The Favourite, 2018

In the early 1700s, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) suffers from a range of maladies and much of the running of the state actually falls into the hands of her most trusted confidant, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). But when an ambitious new servant, Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives at court and makes sure to put herself on Queen Anne's radar, the dynamics between the three women have serious implications on both the personal and political well-being of the individuals and the country.

There's something really spectacular about films where the actors just feel absolutely perfect for the material, and I found this movie to be just such a case.

Though I hadn't seen the movie at the time, I remember that there were discussions about who would be nominated for which Academy Award: the film splits its time almost perfectly between its three lead characters, though with her dominating and unforgettable performance as Queen Anne, it's not surprising that ultimately Colman was given the Best Actress nod.

The story itself is a brilliantly told cautionary tale about the danger of playing games with and for power, making great use of a setting where many people do not see themselves as having a choice whether or not to engage in some of those games. While Stone's Abigail is certainly manipulative, she comes from a background that involved sexual violence and endures physical abuse from her fellow servants. As she articulates in one scene when contemplating an action she admits is immoral, what good will her morality do her if she loses her place in the court and is forced into prostitution? Sarah is likewise easy to dislike, but her position is also easy to understand. Further, she seems to have a genuine love for Anne, even if it expresses itself in a manipulative way.

But looming over it all is Colman's Queen Anne, a woman whose struggles and illnesses make her vulnerable, yet those things combined with her power make her very dangerous. She's a brilliant character--and brilliantly portrayed--because every action that Lady Sarah or Abigail takes has the potential to explode in their face. Every time they do something to amp up Anne's paranoia, or every misstep they make in trying to make themselves appear essential is like laying down a trap for themselves. Queen Anne is like a wounded animal--alone and hurting, but capable of great injury. She is so used to her life of luxury and obedience that it blinds her to the real motivations of those around her.

The look of the film is incredibly strong, with wonderful textures and shapes in the costuming and the set design. There's a neat mix in many of the rooms and outfits between opulence and squalor.

The film also makes great use of the comedic chops of its cast. All three actresses have a different kind of humor, and they are well supported by Nicholas Hoult as a politician who becomes a part of the power games being played. Joe Alwyn also gets quite a few laughs as a lord who is sent by Hoult's character to seduce and dominate Abigail, but ends up under her power. A bemused debrief between the two men after the attempted seduction ("How did it go?" " . . . she bit me.") establishes Abigail's savvy---not disregarding their attentions, but submitting to them on her own terms.

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