Period dramas are like Yorgos Lanthimos films; you either love them or wonder what all the fuss is about. Characters without a word or frilly cufflink out of place throwing fake smiles at one another, and ending at least one sentence with ‘quite right’. It’s enough to put some people off, but the second the Lanthimos has viper-tongued Rachel Weisz slay Olivia Colman’s badger-like make-up it’s apparent that this isn’t your usual period drama or Lanthimos film for that matter; it is undoubtedly the best of both.
Set during the early 18th century, the English are going at it with the French, and gout-suffering royal Queen Anne is too busy tending to her some 17 pet rabbits to care. Not even sure if we’re winning or not, Anne is instead, aided by her BFF, Lady Sarah Churchill (Weisz) who is puppeteering the leader of the country and loving it. The friendship and the salacious secrecy they indulge in are taken to their limits when in walks Abigail (Emma Stone rocking an impressive English accent); a distant cousin to Sarah and once a lady of a noble family, but now a lowly maid. Innocently wandering into the middle of this formidable friendship, she sees an opportunity of breaking the besties apart, resulting in the Queen wanting her cake, eating it too, and bringing it back up shortly after.
Though his early work may not have caught everyone’s attention, The Favourite may break through the barrier and earn its title thanks to a terrific trifecta in the middle of this tantalising and undeniable topsy-turvy period piece. For starters, it’s a fascinating film to look at. Polished but still hiding a dirty layer underneath that Lanthimos is desperate to show, taking us down dark corridors and seedy get-togethers that make you both love and loathe the characters that inhabit it. Weaving in and out of high-octane duck racing, unorthodox dance scenes and organised fruitings are Weisz, Stone and Colman firing on all cylinders, and often at each other. Setting every scene ablaze with dialogue that’s as quotable as it is uncouth, each of these leading ladies fit their role wonderfully and make the battle for Queen Anne’s affections a devilish delight to watch.
Stone plays the angel with a crooked halo brilliantly, acclimatising herself to various characters that are watching the throne (including Nicolas Hoult who might be the best he’s ever been) and ensuring to get as close to it as possible. Blocking her way is Weisz, turning every frame to sub-zero and conjuring her finest when she’s at her most ferocious. But rolling in like an absolute boss is Colman as Queen Anne. Bratty, bitchy and stomach-achingly hilarious all the same, Colman first stint as a Royal this year (her next will be in Netflix’s The Royals as Queen Elizabeth II) is remarkable and deserving of every award she’s lining up to accept. The other two may be giving their all, but Colman feels truly effortless and a testament to her capability in a performance that you’ll keep coming back for, like a sugary sweet slice of cake – be sure to have a vase nearby, should you overindulge.