Movie Review – The Favourite

TL;DR – At times funny, at times perplexing, and at times very dark, it explores the world of immense power and those who want to obtain it, and the damage that can do.    

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene

The Favourite. Image Credit: Fox Searchlight


We live in a world where thanks to technology we can explore galaxies far away, to fantasies imagined in every which way, but sometimes reality can be stranger than anything we can muster. Today we are exploring a film that is set around the power politics of last years of the House of Stuart as different people position themselves in an ever-shifting world. This would be interesting enough in itself, but in both a less and in some cases more dramatic way this is what really happened (or at least what was alleged to have happened) in real life. It is a snapshot of absolute power, but also of sadness, and regret.

So to set the scene, we open in on a tumultuous time in British politics, with an unpopular war in France, the Tories and the Whigs at each other’s throats over who will pay for it, and a Queen in ill health. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) had lived a difficult life, with a number of tragedies, but the one constant source of strength in her life was Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). Sarah is there to help her in court, with decisions about the war, and to comfort her when her gout becomes inflamed. One day as Sarah’s husband John (Mark Gatiss) is preparing to leave for the frontlines, a long lost relative Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) arrives at the palace. Abigail is from a family of high status and is related to Sarah, but many bad decisions by her father had left them destitute. In the last act of desperation, she asks for a job and is made a maid in the house. However, after a number of cruel pranks by the other staff, she spies an opening and uses a leaf from a local herb to sooth the Queen’s pain. Sarah has her made her personal servant, where she sees more than she planned, it also places Abigail in the crosshairs of Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer (Nicholas Hoult) who wants her for her access to the Queen, and Samuel Masham, 1st Baron Masham (Joe Alwyn) who wants her for her charm.       

The Favourite. Image Credit: Fox Searchlight
Power is at the heart of The Favourite. Image Credit: Fox Searchlight

The first thing you see is all the care that has gone into the details to make this film look truly extravagant. To begin with, they filmed most of this film on location at Hatfield House built in 1611, and that immediately adds a level of detail which while not impossible to recreate on a soundstage, it would have been difficult. You have these spaces that are so intricately decorated, and then some spaces where the ceilings are so high and you can see 400 years of soot lining the wall along the chimney. To add to this, you have some of the most exquisite costuming I have seen all year. Every outfit that Rachel Weisz wore stood out against even the most resplendent backgrounds. I mean she still looked amazing wearing an outfit after being dragged behind a horse for a day. Now I am not historical costumes expert, so I can’t tell you how well they did with regards to the period authenticity, but they looked so good I don’t really care if they are wrong.

Also throughout the film, they used some really interesting filming techniques, to highlight the intimacy and sometimes the oddness of what is going on. Robbie Ryan, the cinematographer, filmed quite a bit of the film through fisheye lenses which create a warping effect around the edges of the frame. This creates some real oddness, because it not a natural look that one usually expects to see in these period films, but it brings you into this world of deceit visually by making you feel out of place. As well as this, quite a lot of the film is shot using natural light and since this is the 1700s this means sunlight or flames. This provides some striking silhouettes with only parts of people’s faces lit up in the frame, drawing you into their expressions. It also adds to some dramatic visages where you see flaming lanterns flow off into the distance, or conversely, it creates darkness where people might be hiding in wait.

The Favourite. Image Credit: Fox Searchlight
With all of the main cast there is such range to their performances. Image Credit: Fox Searchlight

Along with the film techniques, the other strong point in the film is the acting. This is a film about how three women exert power over each other through various means, and which some rise and others fall. This means that you have to if not care about all the characters, you need to at least respect them, or else you start backing one over the other too early in the narrative. I have yet to see a film which was not improved by casting Rachel Weisz, and The Favourite is no exception. Every movement, every look, is filled with purpose and drive, which makes it a wonder to watch. Emma Stone is one of my generation’s best actors and watching her go up against Rachel as they try to exert their power differently is a masterclass in subterfuge. Also, Olivia Colman brings so many different layers to Queen Anne, there is a certain childish wonder, a dash of a spoilt brat, some really deep psychological scars from her life, and also hint that something more is lurking under the surface.

Now when it comes to historical accuracy, well it is a film foremost and a historical account second, at best. This means while it gets many of the broad strokes right, it is more focused on the power movements of the three main cast. So some events in the film were sped up or compressed, or they come from historical sources like Sarah’s memoirs which understandable are probably quite biased. This all adds to a feeling that the film wants to say more but is held back a bit by its historical setting. Or that they couldn’t quite find the right note to end the on.

The Favourite. Image Credit: Fox Searchlight
As with all things, power can shift under ones feet. Image Credit: Fox Searchlight

In the end, do we recommend The Favourite? Well yes and no, and that is because it is a very particular film. I quite liked it, but it is at times a very raunchy movie filled with language and other suggestive scenes which will not be everyone’s cup of tea. So I think this is a film that some will love and others will be sitting there wondering when it will all be over, and I can’t tell you which side you will fall on.                      

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

Have you watched The Favourite?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.

Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Favourite
Directed by
–Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by – Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara
Cinematography by – Robbie Ryan
Edited by – Yorgos Mavropsaridis
– Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, Mark Gatiss, James Smith & Jenny Rainsford         
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R


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