There’s a lot of vomit in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite. All three of its lead actresses—Oscar® winners Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone—get to throw up at some point during the period-costumed proceedings. Colman’s upchuck scene is the most delightful (sic); she daintily dabs at the corners of her mouth with a napkin after puking and goes right back to having her cake and eating it too (giving new meaning to Marie Antoinette’s famous words). Like Marie Antoinette—I’m talking about the Sofia Coppola film from 2006 now—The Favourite is a period piece clad in modern sensibilities (read on). Colman plays the frail, regally-impaired Queen Anne of England, at war with France circa 1708. Her most trusted friend and advisor is Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Weisz), who decides most of the governmental issues and would appear to have her majesty over a barrel (so to speak; they may be lovers but there’s more lewdness than loveliness in The Favourite). Things get more complicated when Sarah’s cousin Abigail Hill (Stone), a former aristocrat who has fallen on hard times, shows up looking for work. Too ambitious to remain a scullery maid, Abigail quickly sidles her way up the royal ladder, first as Sarah’s lady-in-waiting and then as the Queen’s confidante and new lover, a veritable match to the powder keg. If you’ve seen any of the director’s other films—Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, all dark and weird yet excellent—you’ll know that Lanthimos doesn’t do light and doesn’t do mainstream, and The Favourite is no exception. Unfortunately, it features a boorish script (by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara), nausea-inducing cinematography (notably in the interior scenes, where almost everything is shot, inexplicably, through a fisheye lens), and a score which oscillates between baroque noodlings and what sounds like a radiator being struck with a hammer. The sum of its parts, therefore, despite valiant turns from our talented triumvirate (all three of whom earned Academy Award®-nominations for their performances; Colman won), is a mean and manipulative affair that comes across as arch and icky and positively pretentious. Pity the fool who wanders in off the street expecting Merchant/Ivory.
(c) 2019 David N. Butterworth