The Favourite: Yorgos Lanthimos’s Best To Date

Emma Stone in the film THE FAVOURITE. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The Favourite is the wittiest film to date from director Yorgos Lanthimos and is brought to life largely by three strong women.

The newest film from Yorgos Lanthimos takes place in the early 1700s.  Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) holds the English throne at this time.  She’s calling the shots while England and France are at war.  The war being the War of Spanish Succession–which doesn’t end until 1714.  While it’s safe to say that this film is a historical biopic, there’s nothing by way of showing what year it is.  This doesn’t take away from how entertaining the film is because the laughs come left and right.  The film more or less displays the key moments at hand.

Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), the Duchess of Marlborough, is the one calling the shots wile the Queen is ill.  Lady Churchill befriended Queen Anne years earlier and their friendship is very close.  The film goes as far as to suggest a romantic relationship between the two of them.  They had nicknames for each other, too–Mrs. Morley for the Queen and Mrs. Freeman for Lady Churchill.  When Abigail appears to be the Favourite, Lady Churchill threatens to blackmail the Queen by sending her letters to author Jonathan Swift.

Lady Churchill’s takes her cousin, Abigail Hill, under her wing when she arrives at the palace.  Sarah sees something in her cousin and Abigail eventually becomes a bedchamber woman to the Queen.  While the two have a blossoming friendship, other things are happening that become out of their control.  Queen Anne starts turning to Abigail in the (likely) months to come.  Before you know it, Abigail poisons Lady Churchill as a way to get her out of the picture.  During this time, Abigail has conversations with Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), Earl of Oxford.  Harley being a rival to Sidney Godolphin (James Smith), the first Earl of Godolphin.  Eventually, Abigail marries Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn), a gentleman of the Queen’s Household, in a secret ceremony.  Just as quickly, she becomes Lady Masham.

Lady Churchill and Abigail’s relationship becomes a fascinating study when you look at their politics.  Lady Churchill and the Queen come from different parties yet Lady Churchill was the one who had a considerate amount of power.  Is this why the Queen started turning towards Abigail as her favourite?  Maybe.  As Lady Churchill and her husband, John Churchill (Mark Gattis), 1st Duke of Marlborough, lose their power, Godolphin does as well.

While Lady Churchill may have lost favor in the eyes of the Queen, her descendants live into the 21st century.  Her descendants include former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (6th great-grandson) and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.  The relationships between monarchs and aristocrats can be fascinating in its own right.  With rare exceptions, the film takes is set at Kensington Palace although the Hatfield House doubles for the palace in the film.  The building is still going strong today!

If one were to take away the fact that this is a period film, such a story could very well take place today.  Grabbing power or befriending those in power is seemingly the natural thing to do.  There’s an appeal that one finds in power and that comes through in the three leading women.  Hell, a similar plot transpired in the Oscar-winning drama, All About Eve!

The screenplay from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara gives us such dialogue that is fitting for a film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.  We get comedy, romance, and tragedy all in a singular film.  Where The Lobster was an absurd black comedy, The Favourite surely goes for comedy.  Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz are simply magnificent in bringing these performances to life.

With three stellar performances on hand, The Favourite is able to take things to the next level of being a cinematic masterpiece.

DIRECTOR:  Yorgos Lanthimos
SCREENWRITERS:  Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
CAST:  Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, James Smith, Mark Gatiss, Jenny Rainsford

Fox Searchlight opens The Favourite in NY/LA on November 23, 2018.  A theatrical expansion will follow.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.