Movie review: Biting comedy 'The Favourite' deserves Oscar buzz

Fred Hawson

Posted at Feb 22 2019 12:28 PM

It was 1708. Sarah Churchill was the Duchess of Marlborough. She was the closest friend of Queen Anne, who preferred to spend her days doing her unusual hobbies than be queen. Sarah was actually making the political decisions on behalf of the queen. This caused her to have enemies among the landowners who were being heavily taxed by her policies to fund Britain's war against France. 

Abigail Hill was Sarah's cousin whose family had been disgraced by gambling debts by her father. She started work at the palace as a maid, but was eventually promoted to be the Queen's personal maid in her bedchamber. There, upon discovering Sarah's secret intimate relationship between the Queen, the shrewd Abigail developed a devious plot to usurp and take over Sarah's position as the Queen's favorite.

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The main story of this strange period film is the rabid rivalry between Sarah and Abigail to be the Queen's favorite. Do not expect a peaceful genteel Merchant-Ivory film. This was a no-holds-barred and vicious catfight with all claws out, as presented to us for our entertainment by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. His previous films "Dogtooth" (2009) and "The Lobster" (2015) attained critical acclaim. 

Despite its offbeat nature, "The Favourite" was still the one that was most accessible to the mainstream. Likewise, it was this one that finally earned him the Oscar nomination for both Best Picture and Directing. 

Despite not being the main character, Olivia Colman was the one who earned a slew of Best Actress nominations for her role as Queen Anne. In the story, this queen was actually frail and often seen in bed, or in the company of her pet rabbits. However, Colman was able to give Anne a memorably bizarre behavior that cannot be ignored. She still maintained an imperious queenly air about her despite being infirm. Her bipolar personality was switching to and fro erratically, but she can still make her royal pronouncements and made sure her orders were carried out.

Previous Oscar winners Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone fully deserved critical praises for their performances here, which I honestly thought were not supporting at all. They both played strong characters. They were so shamelessly committed even if the scene was crude or embarrassing. I would have thought that Weisz and Stone should compete for Best Actress together with Colman to set an Oscar precedent. 

Between the two, I'd say Weisz has the edge to win, for being in that fantastically beguiling ballroom dance scene and that harrowing horse riding moment. 

The blackness of the comedy reflects in the unusually over-the-top costume designs (an Oscar nomination for Sandy Dennis) as well as make-up and hair styling. Under all the strong female characters, the male characters were all seemingly made to look very foolish. For me, I like these types of historical movies with their interesting character and cultural studies, so I was very much engaged in this one. The sharpness of the biting comedy is certainly something to relish, like quality cheddar cheese. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."