The Favourite is fab­u­lously weird

Cos­tume drama pits Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz as royal ri­vals

The Peterborough Examiner - - Arts & Life - BRIAN TRUITT

Very rare in­deed is the Os­car-ready cos­tume drama that fea­tures duck rac­ing, bunny birth­day par­ties and one sup­port­ing ac­tress con­tender chuck­ing books at the other’s head.

Di­rec­tor Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos’ wild take on the stuffy pe­riod piece is an 18th-cen­tury hoot that mar­ries “Mean Girls”-level in­sults and slap­stick hu­mour: Be­fore the movie re­ally even gets go­ing, Emma Stone face-plants into mud af­ter be­ing thrown out of a car­riage — and that’s far down the list of her most bonkers sit­u­a­tions. As hi­lar­i­ous as it is, “The Favourite” doesn’t skimp on im­pres­sive cos­tum­ing and pro­duc­tion de­sign, and the film gamely tack­les class and gen­der themes, as well as par­ti­san pol­i­tics, in its tale of women be­hav­ing badly and men be­ing nitwits.

The tragi­com­edy is set in Eng­land dur­ing the era of Queen Anne (Olivia Col­man), a gout-rid­den sov­er­eign who suf­fers from in­se­cu­rity, shy­ness and mad fits of rage, usu­ally aimed at ran­dom ser­vants.

Be­cause of her is­sues, the coun­try is run pri­mar­ily by Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), a fo­cused and pow­er­ful fig­ure who’s been Anne’s best friend since child­hood and is now the queen’s most trusted ad­viser (and se­cret lover). Sarah also doesn’t suf­fer fools, not even reign­ing ones: When Anne goes a lit­tle heavy on the eye makeup, the queen’s BFF tells her in with­er­ing fash­ion, “You look like a badger.”

Eng­land is in some tu­mult at the time be­cause of the war with France — plus the con­flict­ing ide­olo­gies of the Whigs and Tories — and chaos be­gins to in­fil­trate the palace with the ar­rival of the be­witch­ing Abi­gail (Stone). Sarah’s cun­ning cousin is claw­ing her way back to aris­toc­racy af­ter her side of the fam­ily has fallen on cash­strapped hard­ship and dis­favour.

Abi­gail is first as­signed to be a scullery maid, but her charm en­chants Sarah and then Anne, cre­at­ing a love tri­an­gle that lands Abi­gail in the royal bed­cham­bers. The new­comer be­comes an ally for scur­rilous Tory leader Robert Har­ley (a scen­esteal­ing Ni­cholas Hoult), who wants to use Abi­gail’s con­nec­tions to the throne to end the costly war, and Abi­gail also sees mar­riage to dim-bulb Baron Masham (Joe Al­wyn) as yet an­other way to climb the ranks.

Fair warn­ing for his­tor­i­cal purists: Much of the real Anne’s reign is a mys­tery, but it’s safe to say there wasn’t break­danc­ing at courtly shindigs. The beauty of Lan­thi­mos’ film­mak­ing, like with the ro­man­tic ab­sur­dity of his dark com­edy “The Lob­ster,” is how he turns weird, self-aware sto­ry­telling into en­ter­tain­ing, au­di­ence-friendly cin­ema. There’s not a lot of sub­tlety in the stately shenani­gans of “The Favourite,” though the end­ing is po­ten­tially po­lar­iz­ing for some with its metaphor­i­cal mean­ings.

It’s hard to imag­ine the cast be­ing bet­ter, es­pe­cially with how the film pits Stone’s con­niv­ing, street-smart Abi­gail against Weisz’ more pol­ished but savvy Sarah. Both ac­tresses are end­lessly amus­ing, whether it’s Sarah jeal­ously toss­ing the afore­men­tioned tomes at Abi­gail’s nog­gin or Abi­gail get­ting a lit­tle ner­vous when her fren­emy bran­dishes a ri­fle while the two are pi­geon shoot­ing.

Most im­por­tantly, “The Favourite” gives Amer­i­can au­di­ences a grand in­tro­duc­tion to Col­man, al­most as­suredly a best ac­tress nom­i­nee thanks to her ex­cep­tional per­for­mance as the enig­matic

Anne. A vet­eran of Bri­tish film and TV (“Broad­church,” “The Night Man­ager”), Col­man lends wit and pathos to a mer­cu­rial queen, one who keeps 17 rab­bits around at all times, is em­bar­rassed by her health and sub­mis­sive to her con­fi­dantes, though still fully aware of her sta­tus even when least ex­pected. (Get to know Col­man now be­fore she takes over du­ties as Queen El­iz­a­beth from Claire Foy on the next season of Net­flix’s “The Crown.”)

“The Favourite” is an abun­dantly en­ter­tain­ing gem for those al­ler­gic to fussier looks at his­tory, wrap­ping royal am­bi­tions and a war of man­ners in high-end far­ci­cal com­edy.


Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, right, in a scene from the film "The Favourite."

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