"If victory favors me, I will protect your child with my life."

"I ask you not to worry about that possibility. Because my son and I live on the Demon Way in Hell, we're prepared to descend into Hell through the Six Realms and Four Lives."

The Favourite

THE FAVOURITE is the best picture nominated latest from director Yorgos Lanthimos, who I know from THE LOBSTER. I’m behind on this guy because I still haven’t even seen DOGTOOTH, let alone THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER, but I get the feeling this is the least weird of his movies. It’s also the only one he doesn’t have a writing credit on, instead using a script by newcomer Deborah Davis (her first produced screenplay, even though she wrote the first draft 20 years ago!) and Australian TV writer Tony McNamara. It’s a historical costume drama about palace intrigue, nothing conceptually crazy going on here, but it has a distinctive off-kilter feel and biting humor not always beholden to things people would’ve said at the time.

It takes place in 1708 at the palace of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman, LOCKE) a slightly dim and insecure matriarch who seems to be indebted to and enamored of her closest friend and adviser, Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz, DEATH MACHINE). While the queen is preoccupied with petting bunnies and betting on duck races and shit, Sarah gets her anything she needs. She also pretty much controls the Queen’s political maneuvers, which is particularly important at the moment since Britain has just won a crucial battle against France. Sarah’s husband Duke John (Mark Gatiss, VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN) leads the battalion that she insists must attack, while the Loyal Opposition Leader Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer (Nicholas Hoult, CLASH OF THE TITANS), who would seem ridiculously pompous even without the wig and makeup, tries to get her to end the war and related taxes.

Then Abigail Masham, Baroness of Masham (Emma Stone, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) arrives, being literally tossed off a carriage outside. A cousin of Sarah whose insane father lost her in a card game before burning away the family fortune and himself, she hopes for a job, and gets one in the scullery. Stone weaponizes her usual charm to make Abigail an underdog. She comes in literally covered in mud, willing to embarrass and degrade herself. Not only does Sarah turn her nose up at Abigail, but even the maids she works with immediately hate her and play pranks on her. Still, she keeps her chin up and has a sense of humor about it. Which is crazy, because when I say “play pranks on her” what I mean is “cause her to seriously burn her hand by not telling her the soap bucket is filled with lye.”

She seems like a go-getter, smart and confident and self-reliant. And what she goes and gets are some herbs out in the woods that she mixes into a salve to soothe her burned skin. Then she lies her way into the Queen’s chambers to, without permission, put some of it on her infected legs. When Sarah finds out about it she has Abigail whipped, then when she finds out the Queen liked it she gives her a promotion.

There’s a funny moment when Abigail finds a contrived way to mention to the Queen that it was her that mixed that salve. Embarrassing but effective move. She turns out to be pretty good at fitting these loaded statements into fake-casual conversation, for example when she accidentally finds out the Queen and Sarah are lovers, and threatens Sarah by telling her she would never dream of telling anyone what she knows.

And really she doesn’t. Instead she decides to move in on Sarah’s territory. She gets into Her Majesty’s favor by getting into her, uh, parts. And this is potentially disastrous because the Queen isn’t really capable of ruling on her own and now she’s on the outs with the person who can. Abigail cares more about power than Britain, so she’s never gonna fill Sarah’s shoes.

It’s a neat trick how late in the movie (SPOILER?) I started to realize that Abigail, who I’d been rooting for, was in fact a sociopath, and Sarah, who had seemed like such a judgmental snob, is much more deserving of my sympathy. And it’s not an ALL ABOUT EVE thing where the competition and the attention turns Abigail into a monster. It’s more like this is who she was from the beginning, but I misjudged her.

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan (PHILOMENA) is up for an Oscar, which surprised me at first when I thought of this movie in comparison to the lush beauty of not-nominated IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. But then I remembered the weird fisheye looking distortion that seems to happen especially when the camera pans – it definitely has a bag of tricks that’s unusual for this type of movie. I was delighted to read in an interview with Deadline that Lanthimos made Ryan watch the fucked up Austrian serial killer movie ANGST. He wanted to re-create that amazing rig that’s attached to the killer as he walks around, but they decided it was too hard to do with these elaborate period costumes.

Anyway, it was shot on film with natural light. You don’t see that every day anymore. Good use of your clout, Lanthimos.

It seems kind of weird to me that Weisz and Stone, who seem like the main characters to me, are nominated for best supporting actress, while Colman is nominated for lead. Whatever the politics of that, it’s a great character and performance. She’s a mess from the beginning and it’s funny for a while but begins to be more tragic the more we learn about her. That’s one thing about a monarchy is you end up putting the burden of leadership on a person who’s completely unequipped for it. Well, I guess that happens in other systems too. Shit.

It’s a movie set in giant rooms and gardens and long hallways, and they’re usually pretty empty. Sometimes there aren’t even servants or guards anywhere to be seen. So it really emphasizes that it’s this small group of people who make these decisions that affect the lives (and deaths) of so many people across Britain and France. And it’s all mixed up in the Queen’s depression, sickness and ignorance, her decisions manipulated by her lover or a spy, their personal relationships interfering in all of it. It really is a strong reminder that behind all the fancy architecture and clothing and titles and traditions are just regular, dumb, flawed fucking human beings. A scary thought.

Costume dramas about kings and queens are not something that normally appeals to me. I only saw this one because I liked the previous movie I saw by the director. So I can confirm that this has an appeal for people who aren’t normally into the genre. It’s funny and odd and, if it weren’t based on historical figures, could work in other time periods. If you like the dresses and stuff I’m sure that’s a bonus.

Please note that there’s also a 2018 Christian movie called THE FAVORITE, no U, starring John Schneider from Dukes of Hazzard. As far as I can tell that one is based on a different story.

And by the way, I could not for the life of me tell you exactly what the very last scene is supposed to mean, so I look forward to your interpretations in the comments.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 4th, 2019 at 11:03 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

15 Responses to “The Favourite”

  1. ;-[Spoiler?]

    The very last scene to me are essentially the people who believes in trickle down economy or the anti-70% tax people who are running around thinking that one day they are gonna be rich when in fact their necks will get snapped by the rich just like th
    at.

  2. I had a chance to see this for free but I decided that I would spend those couple of hours doing something else. I kind of regret not using those free tickets on this but then I realized that movies to me are a lot like the music I listen to. I very rarely will find somebody new to listen to and I choose to listen to old favorites. If I do listen to new music it’s because it sounds somewhat similar to what I have listened to in the past. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s hard for me to sit down for a movie like this now and I would prefer to sit at home and watch a DTV 90s movie or something. I don’t know what I’m getting at, just using this as a soapbox to be honest about how lame I am lol

  3. (END SPOILERS, END SPOILERS!)(END SPOILERS, END SPOILERS!)(END SPOILERS, END SPOILERS!)(END SPOILERS, END SPOILERS!)

    I was pretty curious about the final scene, too. The rabbits represent the queen’s psychological wounds, but are they overwhelming her, or everyone, or are they being transferred to Stone in some way? There’s a sudden power shift which is obviously occurring, but I couldn’t quite figure out why, or what it implies about the future. Do the rabbits just represent everyone’s accumulating miseries, gradually drowning out anything else? I’m not really certain.

    (END SPOILERS, END SPOILERS!)(END SPOILERS, END SPOILERS!)(END SPOILERS, END SPOILERS!)(END SPOILERS, END SPOILERS!)

  4. SPOILER: The unmasking of Abigail as cruel leaves Anne with only the embodiment of her grief. End SPOILER. How about that duck race?

  5. Maybe the rabbits don’t mean anything.

  6. Ryan Not The Dean

    February 4th, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    SPOILER SPOILER:

    I sorta took the ending to mean, Abigail isn’t uniquely special and powerful. She’s just another rabbit scurrying around in this gilded cage (mixed metaphor sorry). Kinda emphasized the difference she feels from the queen and even Sarah, who actually does have unique training and education for this position (though she too was disposable).

    The ending also paid off her repeated mentions of her past using her body to survive. I felt sad for her when I realized she was still acting as a prostitute, and she would be for the rest of her career (which I can’t imagine will be terribly long).

  7. I liked this movie a lot — everything from the amazing costumes (at one point Lady Sarah looked like a dang superhero in gilded leather, while the men at court did their best to look like ridiculous fops) to the flashes of bizarre humor (the dance at the court party, Abigail’s rendezvous with her suitor in the forest). And my boy Nicholas Hoult is back in white face powder! It’s a hoot.

    This did send me onto Kanopy to finally watch Dogtooth, which is FUCKED UP YO. That was some disturbing ish right there.

    SPOILER Vern and everybody, it’s hilarious that you all latched onto the weirdness of the final shot because my wife and I both totally did too — we looked at each other like, “What??” I’m guessing that the proliferation of rabbits is meant to convey Abigail realizing that she’s trapped in the role she fought for, just another one of the Queen’s pets. But late 60s/early 70s style of the overlapping, out-of-focus dissolves are so out of nowhere, and so unlike the rest of the movie, that it just didn’t work for me. The only shot in the whole movie that didn’t, I have to say — I loved the look of it throughout, reminded me a lot of the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall (a good thing).

  8. All interpretations are valid. For me, as the rabbits represented the 17 lost children of Queen Anne and in turn her grief over that fact, that’s how I personally interpreted it. After losing Sarah and then seeing Abigail for who she truly was, she was left with only the rabbits. But how bout’ that Duck race.

  9. I agree with Ryan the Dean’s interpretation. Abigail becomes just another in line to attain that position – she’s not ultimately appreciated by Anne and will eventually be replaced. I read someone who said there’s a lot of Alice in Wonderland imagery in the film, which I guess ties it into the idea of getting lost down a rabbit hole. That said, the symbolism only made sense to me in hindsight. It felt self-consciously baffling in the moment.

  10. This was one of the numerous historical films I saw in the first half of January which also had me racing off to find out a) what actually happened and b) what happened next.

    In the case of the real life people Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone were playing … actually not what you might expect. Seriously, it’s both quite surprising (especially for the time period) IMO and quite entertaining.

  11. I’m dying to see this but waiting until the blu-ray release.

    Do you like Barry Lyndon, Vern?

  12. Believe it or not, Ray, I still haven’t seen BARRY LYNDON! One of these days.

  13. I’m team-LYNDON is Kubrick’s best!

  14. Come on @Shan don’t make us beg for it! Tell us!

  15. Well, Abigail aka Emma Stone gets Sarah Jennings’s (aka Rachel Weisz) job in 1711 when she gets dismissed from the court. Queen Anne (aka Olivia Colman) dies in 1714, aged only 49. Abigail then retires to private life and lives to age 64.

    Sarah Jennings on the other hand returns from exile and gets right back in to the corridors of power on the queen’s death, inherits enough money from the family trust to be one of the richest women in Europe and lives to be 84.

    The real life events are just fascinating too, both those from the time period the film covered as well as those outside it.

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