The Favourite (****) Rabbits on the loose

The Favourite – 2018

Director Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenplay Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
Cinematography Robbie Ryan
Starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, Mark Gatiss

There is a freedom of language in The Favourite that I have not experienced in any of the previous English period pieces I have seen. I am not a huge fan of the study of royalty in England. Seeing so many of them has left a lingering impression of snobbery and pomp in my mind’s eye for English history. Those big poofy wigs don’t help matters any, either.

This time the “Tales of Ribaldry” are just shocking enough to make the film an early favorite for Oscar. One can almost imagine Jon Lovitz twirling his mustache just off screen. This time involves a competition for the lesbian heart of Queen Anne in the early 18th Century.

One might figure her a stretch to be so randy in her early 40’s and having lost all 17 children in her life. Her gout seems more external than the gout I have seen in my life. She is near the end of her reign and, consequently, her life. She’s a mess. In an expression of power, not unlike someone might exhibit over small animals, Anne (Coleman) has found herself a confidante and lover in Sarah Churchill (Weisz). Strangely, this compromise works for both the younger and older woman. Churchill is effectively running the country.

It’s obvious that she cares for the country itself though, enough to send her husband (Gatiss) to the front lines in a war with France that sees her at odds with the opposition party represented by Robert Harley (Houth).

After bringing in her poor, educated cousin Abigail Hill (Stone) as a maid, things begin to change. Hill figures out how to angle for the Sword of Damocles over Churchill’s head, but does she know what to do once she occupies the space beneath it?

One of the best aspects of The Favourite is the career making performance of Coleman. Her Queen Anne is at times an incredible mess. She’s got a concept of what it is to lead, but she’s so beset by her wounds and her passion, she ignores her instinct and concentrates on overindulgence, mostly.

Weisz is Coleman’s equal in the game of manipulation. What she can’t account for is how far her own, younger cousin Abigail will go to obtain and then keep her power. This makes it fun for the viewer to watch someone who is clearly at the top of everyone’s game to find a competitor in such an unlikely package.

Stone is fun to watch at times, even if she feels out of place in a period piece requiring her to stick to an accent. Her willingness to take a pratfall notwithstanding, I still expect her to be going to the mall with Jonah Hill or working in the coffee shop waiting for her big break. She just has the raised in California timbre to her voice.

The camera work is impressive, to an extent I have not witnessed before from Robbie Ryan (Slow West). The fish eye lens is used to a surprising effect. Even though it is employed often, it is brief enough to have an effect that is sensible and not overplayed.

The film is funny, even if its a story that is too familiar to be surprising. Still, it’s done well enough to feel fresh the whole way through. The costumes and the locations are equally stunning, once one gets beyond the fact that almost every man who is onscreen looks like a less cool version of Brian May.

The placement of rabbits looms large in this film. She who pays attention to what they signify may be rewarded, even if they still don’t belong on the loose. They belong in cages, not running lose in the castle.

See The Favourite if you want to see the kind of film with which Oscar likes to reward itself. I don’t know that it should take home the big prize, but I think Coleman will get some deserved recognition.

(**** out of *****)

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