We seem to have an unhealthy obsession with royalty in this country, dating back to probably the second we won independence from the British, as some wanted to anoint George Washington king. This obsession has manifested itself in a manner of ways over the years: we compared the Kennedy family to royalty, people get up at an ungodly hour to watch the royal wedding, rumors of the princes and princesses are plastered across the covers of tabloids, and we just eat the shit out of any entertainment that deals with kings, queens, and nobles. People are endlessly entertained by tales of this specific upper class, it’s pomp, wealth, and drama. Maybe we dream to have that kind of money and power, where you can do as you please until you have your “let them eat cake” moment. But it’s all kind of bullshit, isn’t it? Royalty (and by extension, monarchy) has never been something to aspire to, and the whole thing is fucking absurd when you sit down and think about it. Director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster) knows this and in The Favourite he does his damndest to show it. Fiercely satirical, and never too over the top that it feels overly unrealistic, one can only help but leave a viewing of this thinking “these are the kind of people that my mom is obsessed with?”
Former aristocrat Abigail (Emma Stone) has hatched a plan to win back her ladyhood. Offering her services as a maid for the mentally and physically deteriorating Queen Anne (a scene stealing Olivia Colman), she intends to charm her pants off in order to get her majesty to reinstate her as a noble. Standing in her way is Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), the Queen’s close friend, caretaker, and person who is effectively running the country. What follows is a series of backstabbings and deceptions as both women vie to remain in the Queen’s favor. Once Queen Anne starts takes a real liking to Abigail, there is nothing either woman won’t stoop to in order to retain their standing.
At first glance, some of the elements here may seem absurd and out of place, and given the director, one wouldn’t be wrong to think that. The lords race ducks. The Queen has a collection of pet rabbits, one for each child she has lost. Her advisors hilariously back out of rooms as to never turn their back to her. It doesn’t matter how much of this is true or not (the rabbits thing isn’t, though they serve a greater thematic purpose), but it does a great job in proving it’s point of how absurd the ruling class can be while the common folk around them suffer greatly. The weight of their conversations does not change, whether they are discussing who will attend a ball, or if the country should stay at war. So much of the political and social posturing is meaningless in the long term, but handled with the utmost importance. Think the political maneuverings of Game of Thrones but on a much smaller scale and without dragons.
This is Lanthimos’ most mainstream film yet, though it is anything but generic. It takes the period piece, turns it on its head, tars and feathers it, and then invites it out for tea. The locations and players may all be familiar, but the music, cinematography, and even the costuming all tell us that this isn’t your grandmother’s royal drama. The script is genuinely funny, the drama never feels forced, and Colman’s portrayal of Queen Anne is worth the price of admission alone.
The Favourite is a great satire of human nature, and how our ridiculous, destructive tendencies amplify as we yearn for, and receive more power. Like most period pieces, it takes a lot of historical liberties, but it shamelessly wears them on its sleeve. Like any good parody, it’s rooted firmly enough in reality that it gets its point across. Watching Stone and Weisz go after one another for two hours was an absolute delight. Could this be the film that propels Lanthimos to more of a household name? Well, the masses do love a good tale about royalty.