Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is old, ailing and plagued with gout. She seeks solace in the company of Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weiss) who has risen on her husband’s coattails to become the Duchesse of Marlborough. Sarah overreaches herself and uses her position to empower her husband…… Sounds like serious stuff, but it most certainly isn’t. Director Yorgos Lanthimos has made a modern version of a Restoration drama complete with swear words you wouldn’t imagine a queen would hear, let alone use, and all the intrigue which such plays are known for. Add superb attention to detail in costume and set design and you are transported back to England in the early eighteenth century. The characters may not move as people did in the seventeen hundreds but the writers have done a wonderful job of making them talk as if they lived then. The acting is flawless, with both Olivia Colman and Emma Stone giving superb performances.
The Duke of Marlborough is fighting the French in a long drawn out, unpopular and expensive war. Sarah is using her influence with the queen to get her to persuade parliament to increase taxes to pay for it. The queen’s prime minister Lord Godolphin (James Smith) explains that raising taxes will be unpopular and ruinous to those who pay them, namely the country’s landowners. What is the poor, sad queen to do? Luckily she has someone else to turn to and that is Abigail (Emma Stone, with a perfect English accent) who has turned up at court as Sarah’s penniless cousin and who, like Sarah has very grand designs to improve her status.
This dark comedy is fast paced and fascinating even though it may not be entirely historically correct. Who cares, however, when it is such a jolly good romp? (Jenny Mather)
Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ version of 18th century England’s royal court drama drips with opulence, and seduces with sumptuous visual indulgences. The enfeebled Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is attended by and relies heavily on cousin-cum-Lady Sarah Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). Sarah’s advice has intentional effect; Earl Godolphin (James Smith) at Treasury leads the Tories (dark wigs) and dominates Queen Anne’s 1st Parliament. Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss) commands the army; whilst the war in France drains the coffers, a coalition (white wigs) led by the Speaker, Earl Harley (Nicholas Hoult) is maneuvering to end it. Into this hotbed of party line intrigues, gossip, and decadence arrives a downfallen cousin (Emma Stone) beseeching Sarah for a position. Abigail’s circumstances, and forthcoming manner initially prompts amity. That then develops into irritation until finally, a breach between them. Abigail’s conundrum is a checkered background, an innate sense of decency, and her position.
Lanthimos’ talent shines spectacularly in this filmic exercise. Audiences are served an extraordinary, optically provocative experience courtesy of Robbie Ryan’s cinematography, Yorgos Mavropsaridis’ poised editing, complete with staggeringly germane music. The cast is excellent; especially fabulous are repartee’s between/among the nimble Stone, Weisz, and Colman characters. Pivotal is Fiona Crombie’s production design, Lynne Huitson’s art direction team, Alice Felton’s set decoration, and Sandy Powell’s costume designs – make a point of paying attention to their stunning work.
Considering the exquisite attention to flavor and details during the film, its least favorite attribute is the apathetically weak ending; audiences, and The Favourite deserved better. (Marinell Haegelin)