Power plays in the lavish and dissolute court of Queen Anne in 18th Century England are the focus of Yorgos Lanthimos’s deliciously decadent period farce The Favourite.
Though Lanthimos (The Lobster) plays fast and loose with historical detail, he paints a wonderful picture of a royal court where an ailing and capricous queen (a brilliant Olivia Colman) rules the country with seemingly unlimited power.
At a whim, she dismisses the Prime Minister, continues an unpopular war with France and levies enormous taxes to pay for the war.
But the power behind the throne is the queen’s oldest friend (and lover), the clever Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz at her finest), who manipulates the queen into making decisions which enhance the influence of her military hero husband, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough.
It seems no one can stand in Sarah’s way – until her distant cousin, the high-born but impoverished Abigail Hill (another top performance from Emma Stone), turns up and asks for a job in the palace.
Abigail is every bit as cunning as Sarah, and she stops at nothing as she claws her way to the top.
All this has a basis in historical truth, but Lanthimos, with his screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, embroiders the facts with outrageous details which make the film a comical delight.
The queen has 17 pet rabbits frolicking in her bedroom, one for each of her 17 dead children – most of them stillborn, and the others dying young.
The courtiers amuse themselves with frivolous pursuits such as racing live ducks or hurling oranges at a naked man.
Colman’s Queen Anne is not an attractive woman – she is obese and greedy, plagued by watery eyes and painful gout. She gets pushed around in a wheelchair or carried in an open sedan chair.
Weisz as Sarah Churchill is imperious, calculating and confident in her power. She is ruthless when it comes to dealing with her upstart cousin Abigail, whom she consigns to the kitchens as a scullery maid.
Stone’s Abigail is equally ruthless as she schemes her way into the queen’s bedroom, supplanting Sarah as Anne’s most trusted confidant and cruelly revenging herself on her rival.
The film is pacy, witty and beautifully filmed by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, with gorgeous settings by production designer Fiona Crombie and elaborate costumes designed by Sandy Powell.
The Favourite won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival (with Olivia Collman winning Best Actress) and has been nominated for five Golden Globes.
It will open on Boxing Day at the Windsor Cinema, Luna Leederville and Luna On SX, with advance screenings on 21, 22 and 23 December.
Watch the trailer…