An ailing and volatile Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) is very much under the thumb of her favourite subject Lady Malborough (Rachel Weisz). However a newcomer, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), threatens to disrupt this relationship and the destiny of the entire country.
The Favourite is a sublimely made tale of jealousy and power. It’s focus is fixed on its three central characters they attempt to outwit each other, sometimes through childish games, or else by vicious acts of cruelty, all whilst behaving according to their desired stations. Sympathy shifts and every character is afforded the chance to be a sore loser and a vile winner. The script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara is rich with character detail.
These characters are ruthless but they are also entirely sympathetic. Each is merely trying to avoid the desperation of being powerless. We are made to feel their suffering through three powerful performances from Coleman, Weisz and Stone. They prove capable of the understated and the comically overstated. Supporting roles from Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn mainly serve for comic relief and to represent the world outside of court and are very natural in both roles.
The cinematography is as bold and inspiring as John Alcott’s similarly themed work in Barry Lyndon. Candlelight illuminates with a dull glow or a violent flicker. Vulnerable pale flesh glows brightly against the pitch black. A telephoto lens creates a bizarre distortion to some of the images. It’s frenzied work, matching the disorientating experience of being in this particular royal court.
The production design is also immaculate. The stark, almost alien clinical lower halls are a stark contrast to the overwrought chambers of the queen. It’s an overwhelming setting which Lanthimos captures in stately wide shots.
The Favourite is a sublime work. A captivating chamber piece of dueling wills and a insightful into the loneliness of power and desperation of powerlessness. It’s hilariously funny, relentlessly tense and perfectly pitched throughout.