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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

The Favourite *****

Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Mark Gatiss, Joe Alwyn Director: Yorgos Lanthimos Country: UK There’s something about biopics set in the Restoration era that tend to be a little staid and dry. In a period of manners, extravagance and pomposity, the age is filled with self-serving egotists whose etiquette is used to mask their ineptitude. While on paper this sounds enthralling, in reality a realisation of this era tends to get weighed down by the confines of decorum and end up lost in a cloud of boring small-talk. However, Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos is known for his ability to transform verbosity into razor-sharp humour, so with him at the helm of this ambitious biopic of Queen Anne and her two favourites, this was always going to be a recipe for success. It is late in the reign of Queen Anne (Colman). She has lost seventeen children (all of whom she has replaced with a caged rabbit) and remains without an heir. Her favourite, Lady Sarah of Marlborough (Weisz), is essentially in control of the country, acting on her behalf in affairs of state as the Queen languishes in a permanent state of grief and misery. Abigail (Stone) is ex-aristocracy whose family has fallen from grace. When she arrives at court to ask for a job from her cousin Lady Sarah, she witnesses a sexual encounter between the Queen and her favourite and begins to hatch for her own social ascendency. Beginning to flatter and flirt with the Queen, she attempts to usurp and replace her cousin, all the while allying herself with powerful political allies (Hoult) and finding a titled young man (Alwyn) to marry and cement her status. This is All About Eve with powdered wigs. The battle between Abigail and Lady Sarah is bitter and vicious, while the Queen’s simplistic view of the world shrouds her from seeing the truth of the dire situation in her court. Lady Marlborough is a realist and while she has absolutely capitalised on her favour, what she does is arguably in the country’s interest. She flatters the Queen to keep level the balance of power. Abigail is a completely different matter, however. Her meteoric rise is entirely self-serving, designed only to give her wealth, power and status. Beside a hedonistic life, Abigail wants very little more, but is willing to fight dirty to get it. And the feud gets really dirty, really quickly. Rachel Weisz cements her status as the Yorgos Lanthimos poster-girl with her eloquent dead-pan delivery, while Emma Stone is resplendent as the Machiavellian dynamite who blows apart the court’s equilibrium. The real star, however, is Olivia Colman, whose performance as Queen Anne is nothing short of filmic genius. A little known British monarch, this is an illuminating tour-de-force, bringing to life the child-like tantrums of privileged entitlement displayed in all their repugnant ridiculousness alongside moments of crippling vulnerability as her ailing health and continuing grief bury her in a deep depression. Colman displays juvenile obstinacy all over her face, that while the country can be falling apart around her, she considers her immediate needs first and foremost. In a desperately uncomfortable scene, we watch her binge-eating cake, spewing it straight into an ornamental vase held by a footman, before resuming her feeding once more. This is a painfully flawed character, but a woman we eventually can’t help but feel sorry for as the feud rages around her. The cinematography is outstanding in capturing the gaudy opulence of the palace and court. Camera pans move at 180 degrees, showing us beautifully composed location shots, where no expense has been spared in recreating the luxury of the age. Restoration comedy is known for the way it ridicules the upper class’ pretentions of grandeur and The Favourite does exactly that, highlighting the preposterous elements of life at court, from game shooting to outlandish dance routines. There are moments when you feel like you’re watching a spoof, but Lanthimos manages to keep the film’s tone perfectly on the right side of bizarre, making it also pass legitimately as a historical drama. Of course this is a parody, but it’s not hard to imagine that it’s not that far away from the truth. It’s rare to see a film so flawlessly composed and pitched perfectly right. I defy anyone to find fault with this exquisite movie. OUT NOW IN CINEMAS.

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