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Monday 4 February 2019

The Favourite, Film UK 2018, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos 9* out of 10

The Favourite is an excellent film with a witty screenplay,  beautiful sets, costumes and photography. Direction and editing are excellent.  The ensemble acting performances by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are outstanding. Highly recommended.

England in the early decades of the 18th century. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is suffering from gout and her trusted friend and advisor Sarah Churchill, the Duchess Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) makes many decisions concerning the affairs of state on the Queen’s behalf. Sarah’s husband the Duke of Marlborough is a successful commander of the British army in the Wars of the Spanish Succession against the French. But parliament is divided between 2 parties, the Whigs who favour continuing the war to beat the French decisively and the Tories who largely pay for the war effort and wish to see the war come to an end as soon as possible. Sarah uses her influence with the queen to support her husband and the Whigs. When Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) an impoverished cousin of hers asks her for a job in the royal household, Sarah helps her to a lowly position; but young cousin Abigail is cunning and ambitious. Moreover, Queen Anne is not always as malleable as Sarah would like her to be. A fateful dance of personal and political intrigue, affection and sexual desire is beginning to take its meandering course.  

The eccentricities of English politics and its protagonists are spectacularly on display these days as the story of Brexit is unrolling before our eyes. What we may have assessed to be as edgy exaggerated and satirical in Yorgos Lanthimos highly entertaining telling of the fiery triangular relationship of three deceptively headstrong women and the effect it has on the politics of the kingdom is probably pure realism. 

Not long ago, an expense scandal in the UK parliament uncovered that a member of parliament put in an expense claim for a custom- built duck-house another for the cleaning of his moat. When Lanthimos shows us a Tory prime minister awaiting an audience with the Queen with his cherished racing-duck Horatio in his lap, we may conclude that 300 years is a short time in politics. Moreover, Lady Sarah's descendants include Winston Churchill, Princess Diana and the princes William and Harry.

The Favourite is an excellent historical costume drama which manages to wrap the personal, political and satirical in a rather moving and entertaining package, where All About Eve meets Saturday Night Fever without detracting from the historical narrative. An excellent, witty screenplay is the starting point, sets, costumes and photography are striking, direction and editing are excellent. The acting performances, jointly and severally, by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are outstanding.

A highly entertaining film about some larger than life female characters in a little-known chapter of English history. The prizes and the 10 Oscar nominations for The Favourite are deserved. Highly recommended.

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