Tuesday, January 1, 2019


The Favourite is a fabulously catty portrait of courtly power plays — one part seduction, one part poison, all calculation. Set in the court of Queen Anne at the height of England’s war with France, the ice-cold plot concerns a wicked love triangle in which sex and power are equal opportunity uses for domination and pleasure. The Queen (Olivia Colman) is a gout-wracked, alternately pathetic and powerful woman, a figure of ego and appetite. She’s floundering, lost in illness and a haze of emotional traumas, clinging to the tether provided by the powerful Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), a confidant who firmly guides her decisions. There’s a love there, but the Duchess also enjoys proximity to power and the way it can bend to her benefit. Enter a new woman in the palace: an ambitious young chambermaid (Emma Stone) whose aristocratic family connections weren’t enough to keep her from careening to poverty, but did provide a foothold to climb back to the top. She’s obviously sizing up the competition and angling to become indispensable by any means necessary. Together the three of them jostle about, looking for avenues to dominate the others, securing their place at others’ expense, and seeking to fill yawning voids in their lives with authority and control, all pawns in games within games. The film is imbued with grotesque interpersonal gusto, like All About Eve let loose in Barry Lyndon as retold by a drunk historian.

Casting off any stiff or dusty sense of stereotypical period piece import, director Yorgos Lanthimos guides the proceedings with a sharp eye and quick pace, fish-eyed distortion in opulent rooms, charting the women’s ambitions and triangulations. He’s always good with morbid bleak humor in closed-system social claustrophobia — the imprisoned offspring of Dogtooth, the Kafka-adjacent singles scene of The Lobster, the doom-laden body horror-inflicted family of The Killing of a Sacred Deer. But in this latest film we find a beating dark heart with an extra charge of writerly flourishes and crisp clatters of prickly quotable wit. Under his style, showing Robbie Ryan's cockeyed cinematography reflecting a fastidiously warped insular world of dark corners and devious plotting, there is a deliciously acid screenplay (written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara) carried off with deadpan-droll fastball-curveball-screwball mania between poised ornate title cards. Dialogue is daggers. Sharp wit drawing blood. Every scene a perfectly dark jewel. Accompanied by token men — a beautifully bitchy, bewigged Nicholas Hoult; a charmingly, vacantly pretty Joe Alwyn — the precisely charted emotional and political territorialism in these vicious, guarded, snapping performances maps out a vivid and literate display of power corrupting absolutely, until all human connection erodes into dissolves and rabbits. It's the sort of whip-smart darkly funny true story that lingers with a mirthful melancholy sting.

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