Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is losing her grip. Seventeen bunny rabbits substitute for the 12 children she lost through miscarriage and still birth, as well as five others who died at young ages. Suffering from gout, her legs are covered with oozing, painful sores. A weak leader, she fails to deal decisively with Britain’s ongoing war with France. One faction in Parliament wants her to bring the soldiers home, the other to call out reinforcements to continue the battle. Power loves a vacuum. Stepping in is Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), who has a good reason for wanting the war to go on: her husband, Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss), is leading the British Army. Sarah will do anything to control the queen, even sleeping with her. But Sarah meets her match when her cousin, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), turns up covered in bad smelling mud. Letting down her guard, Sarah gives Abigail a job in the kitchen. But scrubbing floors is not how Abigail wants to spend her time and soon she and Sarah are fighting to become the queen’s favorite.
Olivia Colman (Photo by Atsushi Nishijima © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved)
Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, is a bawdy estrogen-fueled roller-coaster ride that dramatizes a critical time during the reign of Queen Anne, who ruled from 1702 to 1707. While the film boasts lavish costumes and outrageous wigs (on the men!), as well as a grand castle, lavish interiors, and opulent furnishings, this is not a strait-laced look at a monarch’s life. There’s break dancing, raunchy language, sexual encounters, and vicious infighting between those attempting to influence the queen. Even though Anne was married, and was distraught when her husband, George, died, there were rumors that she was a lesbian. What comes through in the film, however, is that Anne is sick, lonely, and longing for human connection. Sarah and then Abigail are eager to fill that void, anything to stay close to the queen.
Rachel Weisz (Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved)
This trio of actresses – Colman, Stone, and Weisz – hold nothing back. Colman, who will be playing another queen, Elizabeth II, when The Crown returns to Netflix in 2019, delivers a raw, multi-layered performance. At times, Anne is vulnerable and needy when she readily submits to either Sarah’s or Abigail’s advances. On other occasions, she stands up to members of Parliament, and, ultimately to Sarah when she believes Abigail’s false allegations against her cousin.
Emma Stone (Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved)
It’s a long way from La La Land for Emma Stone. Her Abigail makes Bette Davis’ nemesis, played by Anne Baxter in All About Eve, seem like an angel. Abigail’s father lost the family fortune gambling, and she’s determined to once again become a lady. While she appears grateful to Sarah, behind the scenes she’s plotting against her cousin. Stone’s ethereal appearance and solicitous manner belies a ruthless determination. She even plots her marriage to Masham (Joe Alwyn), but makes it clear on her wedding night that she has other things on her mind. Weisz’s Sarah, although just as much of a manipulator as her cousin, at least is concerned about the war’s outcome. Her failing comes when she underestimates her cousin’s thirst for revenge and the queen’s vulnerability.
Top Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved