There is a reason that people still flock to see Shakespeare. There is an intrigue to period pieces. It’s a world so different from our own that is played to subtle but devastating perfection. This is why “The Favourite” became an instant favorite for this critic.
If I could describe “The Favourite,” in a word, I would have to go with “rich.” From the sets and costumes to the depth and complexity of storytelling, to the score and performances, this film was rich beyond belief.
“The Favourite” is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and stars Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Nicholas Hoult.
Set in 18th Century England, in the midst of a war with France, political chess pieces are moving both in parliament and in the more intimate. The world of the palace women is where the real battles and strategies are happening.
Queen Anne (Colman) occupies the throne and allows her most trusted confidant, Lady Sarah (Weisz), to govern on her behalf. When a new servant, Abigail (Stone), arrives and wins the Queen’s favor, a new game with much higher stakes emerges. Who will be the Queen’s favourite?
“The Favourite” is defined by the striking juxtaposition of Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. One is all classical beauty, dark-haired and sharp-featured. The other is like a Botticelli cherub, soft and pale and full of childlike innocence. It’s a classic pairing of opposites and works so beautifully to make these women the literal chess pieces in the game of courtly politics.
Both actresses give wonderful performances and maintain that tension and opposition to delicious perfection.
It would be easy to wax poetic about the beauty of the costumes, the intrigue of the story, and the solid performances by all. But, what this critic finds so interesting about “The Favourite” is the subtle feminism and the intriguing LGBTQ+ representation at play in a genre where we don’t get to see much of these themes.
To speak of “The Favourite” in terms of strong female leads is to speak on the full spectrum of female power. Emma Stone’s Abigail is traditionally feminine and illustrates how feminine wiles can hold their own in a world of men, perhaps even yield a significant advantage.
Weisz, on the other hand, exemplifies the woman who comfortable steps into the trappings of male power. From smart riding suits to marksmanship, another facet of feminine power in this film is the illustration that a woman can seize the same power as a man… and maybe even pull it off better.
I can’t stress enough how well that juxtaposition and stark contrasts lend themselves to how striking and interesting this film is. Our leads are as different as night and day, but so similar and driven by the same base desires.
This makes “The Favourite” a fascinating piece to observe through a feminist lens.
To summarize “The Favourite” is to acknowledge it as an intricate dance, masterfully executed. The storytelling is such that the two-hour runtime seems to fly by. The film positively drips with decadence and is a gorgeous representation of the period. And, above all, this fascinating triangle of very different, very compelling women were all brought to life with incredible skill.
Period pieces might not be for everyone, but film lovers would be remiss to skip “The Favourite.” Well done.
“The Favourite” is in theatres now!
Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began when she was shown “Rosemary’s Baby” way too early in life. Bylines include The Financial Diet and Film Inquiry. Caitlin is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics and the Women Film Critics Circle.