Trio of mutual destruction

Heidi Speck

‘The Favourite,’ cynical portayal of humanity


“The Favourite” is not nearly as peppy as its trailers may make it seem.
Of the many biographical films to make its way to cinemas this Oscar season, “The Favourite” stands out as one of the most intriguing.

The aggressively cynical story of Queen Anne dethroning Sarah Churchill for Abigail Hill as Queen Anne’s Keeper of the Privy Purse takes shape under a veil of beautiful set design, lavish costumes and relentless wit.

Despite the triangle of leading women, it is obvious that it is a world dominated by men.

Nicholas Hoult plays an aggressive politician and socialite. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos.

Whether displayed in Harley’s (Nicholas Hoult) elaborate plumage of a stacked white curly wig, or the hunky, yet amusingly dense love interest of Abigail, Masham (Joe Alwyn), though men exist as leaders the of an oppressively patriarchal society, they are exclusively the butt of the joke.


The triangle of women in this film are not just passive victims.

The first point, Sarah, is an advisor, friend and lover of Queen Anne. She uses Anne’s lack of interest in politics to steer the direction of the war to double taxes to sustain attacks on France. Sarah takes in Abigail who becomes the second point of the triangle, her cousin, who arrives on the stage covered in manure (“this mud stinks”), and only realizes how ambitious Abigail is when it is too late.

Emma Stone in the film THE FAVOURITE. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos.

As vicious as she is charming, Abigail is the product of a cruel upbringing. Her wit being one of her only redeeming qualities, she has few limits to what she will do to scratch her way to the top of the social ladder.

The final point of the triangle is Queen Anne. She is riddled with gout, a disease caused by eating an extremely rich diet, causes inflammation, sores and, in the her case, extreme leg pain, which is tended to by Sarah. In one scene, Anne is gorges on cake, stops eating momentarily to throw up, then continue eating.

Anne resembles a spoiled child.

Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in the film THE FAVOURITE. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos.

Because of her political power, she is the only one in the depraved world of writer Deborah Davis who can truly say, do and get whatever she wants and still get away with it.

Abigail weasels her way into the good graces of Anne, who is perpetually at the mercy of her moods, and thus easy prey for Abigail’s wiles.

Watching Sarah and Abigail tear each other part for Anne’s affection is both amusing and horrifying. The world they live in simply becomes a fight for survival, wherein only power can protect you, and the only way to get power is to sacrifice others for your own sake.

Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in the film THE FAVOURITE. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

The rest of the characters mirror this same instinct.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos transforms a tidy, controlled, sickly sweet society into a swarm of primal, trivial, cutthroat behavior. The pettiest of disputes could easily destroy the life of another. Life in 18th century England becomes about gambling what little someone has to gain power where they initially had none.

Screenwriter Davis balances out her dark perspective of humanity with an only darker sense of humor that nonetheless keeps its audience coming back for more.

What could be perceived as a seemingly trivial dispute between three women is, according to Davis, a reflection of the extensive depravity hidden behind shallow propriety.

In the simplest of words, “The Favourite” is incredible. Beautifully filmed, extraordinarily performed and expertly written.

However, it is the kind of movie that will rip out your soul, tickle it, spit on it, stomp on it, and shove back into your body so you can rot like its cast of characters do.