Atypical, audacious Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) is back with a fictionalized, vivacious, adult period piece set in 18th Century Britain, filled with scheming dark wit. Think of All About Eve with corsets.
An exquisitely mounted The Favourite features Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone and Olivia Colman opening in the court of the latter, a volcanic Queen Anne, with the Hatfield House filling in for Kensington Palace.
Scandal and disloyalty among two cousins, Weisz’s Lady Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and Stone’s subservient scullery maid, Abigail, make up much of the intrigue of what points to making due in unreasonable circumstances without anyone having issue with it.
In a melancholy state is the ailing royalty who dotes over her bunnies, so her faithful servant and confidante in Lady Sarah seizes a ruling opportunity when it comes to a disputed war with France. And, she aggrandizes her legionary husband Marlborough (Mark Gatiss) to help do so. Abigail lost her status when her senseless father chanced his title and lot away and used her to pay off his arrears to a German.
The screenplay from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara makes for a bawdy and biting Masterpiece Theatre largesse with a lower Abigail setting her sights to be the chief competitor for the wheelchair-bound Queen’s consideration. An honorable, inviting charisma is evinced by Stone on the surface while a ruthlessly determined heart lies beneath.
In this diverting depiction, men are often foppish or imbecilic as in the case of tall, irritable, foppish Harley (Nicholas Hoult) who makes Lady Sarah loathsome because of his economic stance on the war. Court figure Masham, a manly Joe Alwyn, is ripe for Abigail’s romantic pursuits and conspiring for political purposes.
Colman, who has worked with Lanthimos on The Lobster while also in the remake of Murder On The Orient Express and, earlier, The Iron Lady, really comes into her own by fulfilling his New Wave absurdist cravings in aiming to reestablish her preeminence. The director’s self-assurance in material which he didn’t help produce also offers choice turns for Stone (“Battle of the Sexes” and La La Land) and Weisz (Denial, Disobedience, My Cousin Rachel). Their deftness is useful for Colman’s marvelous creation in a film piquantly executed to give its moniker a sycophantic, as well as sardonic verisimilitude.