The Favourite

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

THE FAVOURITE, bi­o­graph­i­cal drama, rated R; Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, Vi­o­let Crown; 4 chiles All pol­i­tics is sex­ual. That at least is the case in the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Col­man of Broad­church), the cen­tral fig­ure in this rav­ish­ingly en­ter­tain­ing cos­tume romp, as imag­ined by Greek di­rec­tor Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos (The Killing of a Sa­cred Deer).

There’s enough his­tor­i­cal frame­work here to sus­tain the lib­er­ties taken by Lan­thi­mos and his dev­il­ishly clever screen­writ­ers Deb­o­rah Davis and Tony McNa­mara. Anne ruled Eng­land, and then the newly formed Great Bri­tain, for a short stretch in the early 18th cen­tury. Her clos­est ad­vi­sor and con­fi­dante was Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marl­bor­ough. When that re­la­tion­ship soured, Sarah (Rachel Weisz) was re­placed in Anne’s af­fec­tions by Abi­gail Hill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s poor re­la­tion.

Both Sarah and Abi­gail held po­si­tions as Ladies of the Bed­cham­ber to the Queen, and in this movie’s de­li­ciously bawdy take, they lived up to that ti­tle in more ways than one. Ru­mor at the time sup­ported that no­tion as ap­plied to Abi­gail, though that may have been scut­tle­butt sowed by the dis­fa­vored Sarah. Here both ladies jockey ruth­lessly for po­si­tion, ser­vic­ing the royal nether parts to gain the royal ear.

Ev­ery­thing clicks in this darkly funny satire. The hu­mor is some­times so­phis­ti­cated and some­times as slap­stick as jolly courtiers pelt­ing a naked man with rot­ten toma­toes or a woman fall­ing face down in slop, but it all works. The cos­tumes (Sandy Pow­ell) are rich, and so is pro­duc­tion de­sign (Fiona Crom­bie) that cre­ates a cav­ernous play­ground in which palace in­trigue swirls; wars are al­ter­nately launched and halted, funded and starved; and min­is­ters come and go (among them an ex­cel­lent Peter Cook-like Ni­cholas Hoult as Robert Har­ley, the Queen’s chief minister.)

All three women should be near the front of the line at Os­car time. Weisz and Stone play a risky game of chicken as they duel for Anne’s af­fec­tions with wit, charm, de­ceit, and other more sin­is­ter weapons. And Col­man is tran­scen­dent in her cre­ation of a doughy, gouty, self-pity­ing ego­tist with oc­ca­sion­ally glimpsed re­serves of no­bil­ity and steel.

Queen Anne lost 17 chil­dren, most in mis­car­riages or still­births, a few in child­hood, in a vain at­tempt to pro­duce an heir. She sur­rounds her­self in­stead with 17 pet rab­bits that hop freely about the royal cham­ber, sym­bols of in­no­cence and loss that fig­ure in­deli­bly in a stun­ning, bleakly kalei­do­scopic fi­nal mon­tage. — Jonathan Richards

Her-aldry: Olivia Col­man

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