The Favourite (2018)
The Favourite is one of the best costume dramas of all time from the most unlikely of sources. Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, Dogtooth) explores corruption and vulnerability in the story of Queen Anne–the feeble British monarch who reigned 1702-1707–and two ladies in waiting willing to sabotage and betray to win her favor. Sometimes bitter, often joyous with the best trio of performances since The Philadelphia Story, the film builds and demolishes bonds with twisted discontent, and bends near breaking with the malicious complexity of a masochist contortionist. Rachel Weisz as the long-standing right-hard-woman who may be running the country is cynical, masculine ferocity looking to hold on to her dominance in a male-centric universe. Emma Stone as the young interloper is a survival minded woman seeking the autonomy the elder ladies have found in their lives; snide but mindfully manipulative. Sneaking out of a salacious library excursion or a meeting in the woods that becomes increasingly violent, her physical delivery exceeds that suspect accent. Olivia Colman taking the often-ill queen alternates between aggressive mania and struggling to appreciate any of the grandeur in the festivities around her.
Lanthimos steps back from writing duties and is able to deliver his mastery of modern drama within fantastical situations. He wrings brilliance from the screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara catching tremendous comedy in Colman’s miserable Queen Anne. The naturally lit castles and the stark opulence to excess adds a layer of pain and depression anywhere inside the castle walls. Lanthimos powers his actors through difficult positions. Colman engorging herself or yelling at servants has a pitiable comedy; her position allows the abuse though her pains and psychosis barely allows it. The latchers-on twisting her influence, engaged with the looming male presence (particularly a preening, over-the-top Nicholas Hoult chewing all that scenery) jostles the cracks in the glass ceiling with a take on the equality between the sexes with equal parts competence and ineptitude in the human condition. Treat yourself to this twisted delight.