Tonight is the 91st Annual Academy Awards! And all day today we’ll be bringing you a rundown of each category as well as reviews of the nominated films. Next up, The Favourite, which is nominated in 9 categories at tonight’s Oscars!
Britain is in the midst of war with France, and Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) health is beginning to deteriorate. As such, she relies on her close friend, Lady Sarah Curchill (Rachel Weisz), the Duchess of Marlborough, to essentially govern for her. When Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) shows up at the palace, she begins to throw things out of order, as Anne begins to favor Abigail over Sarah. What ensues is a cat-and-mouse game between the two cousins as they attempt to reign supreme as the Queen’s favorite. The film is a sort of comedy-drama with plenty of moments of levity, but at its heart, it’s a dark and intense drama about the world surrounding the Queen.
The film opens with an understanding that Sarah and Anne have a firm friendship and partnership. While Sarah may seem to talk down to the Queen at times, she does so to help keep her in the right spot. Anne is not the woman she once was, and without Sarah there to guide her, she would fall into darkness or could easily be manipulated. When Abigail arrives and begins to adjust the scales, in turn helping Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), a Tory member of Parliament who objects to the Queen’s choices during the War, she undermines everything the Queen and Sarah have established.
Overall, the film lives and dies by the performances of Colman, Weisz, and Stone, and they each command the screen throughout the film. Stone builds Abigail from someone you enjoy seeing on screen to someone who has clearly become darkened by the potential to obtain absolute power. Weisz starts off as someone who is rough but potentially loving, and her arch as Sarah is one that is full of ups and downs, turning the character into someone incredibly complex. Right beside her in complexity is Coleman’s Queen Anne. At first, Anne seems like she’s being used and is too dumb to see it. But as time goes on, we see that she’s someone who has been broken down over time–that the world may have made her the Queen of England, but life has taken away so much from her in that time.
At times, it’s hard to keep up with period pieces, as they can fall into melodrama and the type of situations that make a story feel like watching a special on the History channel. The trick to making it work is to provide compelling performances, exquisite dialogue, and a story that keeps you invested. The Favourite does it all. There isn’t a moment of the film that ever feels boring. Every scene gives you something to laugh at, something surprising, or something that you want to see progress as the story unfolds. The film constantly keeps you hooked and wanting more up until its conclusion.
There’s a lot of greatness in The Favourite, but without a doubt, the key to its success is in the cast. There are a few times where you can see three performers give it their all and find balance within the film. They don’t overshadow one another or chew the scenery in a way that makes them the center for everything to revolve around. But director, Yorgos Lanthimos, finds a way to keep it all balanced until the very end when the true victor is declared. In doing so, he creates a story even stronger than the one you thought you were watching play out.
The Favourite is currently available on digital formats.