“The Favourite” is an absurd, female-driven masterpiece


Given the Academy’s history of favoritism toward period dramas, it may not come as a surprise to even a casual filmgoer that “The Favourite,” a historical dramedy set in early eighteenth-century England, holds this year’s crown for most Academy Award nominations with a whopping ten potential trophies (tied with Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma”). While “The Favourite” may fall into a familiar category, the film does away with the exhausted tropes one normally associates with the period genre. Exceptionally witty writing, masterful performances and refreshingly stylized cinematography put it head and shoulders above many other films of its kind.

The film stars Olivia Colman (“The Crown”) as the physically and emotionally fragile Queen Anne. Competing for her favor and affections are Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz, “The Constant Gardener”), the queen’s trusted advisor and clandestine lover, and Abigail (Emma Stone, “La La Land”), an attractive former lady fallen from fortune and looking for work as a palace maid. As Abigail works her way up the social and political ladder, she begins to butt heads with the wickedly smart Sarah. The turbulent relationship between Anne, Sarah and Abigail plays out enticingly, thanks to a masterful screenplay and the nuanced performances of all three actresses. Colman in particular portrays the ailing monarch with exceptional grace, both in her manner — equal parts vulnerable and volatile — and the gradual degradation of her body throughout the film. In one particularly heartfelt scene, Anne admits that her 17 pet rabbits are each in honor of a child she’s lost over the course of her life. Colman plays the tragic moment with poise and heart. Aided by chemistry and clever dialogue, it is impossible not to be drawn into the love triangle forming between the three. Supporting characters like Harley (Nicholas Hoult, “Mad Max: Fury Road”) and Masham (Joe Alwyn, “Operation Finale”) round out a cast of refreshingly smart and delightfully eccentric characters.

Another exceptional element of the film is its treatment of the sexual and romantic affairs between BY ERIN CARBERRY ’19 STAFF WRITER its three leading ladies. Notably, it forgoes many of the usual pitfalls of depicting lesbian relationships on screen: never once are we met with gratuitous nudity or lingering shots that eroticize the movement of fingers on bodies, nor do any of the women have to defend themselves for their desires. Despite this, each of Anne’s relationships is similarly unhealthy: jealousy and manipulation play a key role in driving the women together and apart.

The most notable parts of the film are the distinctive elements of its production. Odd angles, occasional nearly fisheye lenses, intertitles and distinctly stylized editing recall French impressionist films like “The Smiling Madame Beudet” (dir. Germaine Dulac, 1922). Even for viewers with no knowledge of this early movement in cinema, the details work to build a unique and intriguing world very much unlike that of a typical period drama. The film also makes a deliberate choice not to glamorize the period it depicts. At different points, we see muddy streets, Anne’s swollen and misshapen legs and several characters vomiting into decorative vases. While the film is undeniably deserving of each of its Academy Award nominations, its cinematography and film editing are perhaps its crown jewels, rendering it poised to become a genre classic. Overall, the film’s few shortcomings can be forgiven in light of its refreshing style and tasteful depictions.

Erin’s Rating: 4 stars