Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Favourite

Title: The Favourite

Describe This Movie In One Rudyard Kipling Quote:

But the Woman that God gave him, every fibre of her frame
Proves her launched for one sole issue, armed and engined for the same;
And to serve that single issue, lest the generations fail,
The female of the species must be deadlier than the male. 
Brief Plot Synopsis: It's [sometimes] good to be the Queen [but not usually].

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 5 filthy peasants out of 5.

Tagline: None.

Better Tagline: "And we'll never be royals/It don't run in our blood."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: An ailing Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) has ceded much of her decision-making to Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), who is only too happy to prolong the War of the Spanish Succession in opposition to Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford (Nicholas Hoult). However, the arrival of Sarah's disgraced cousin Abigail (Emma Stone), who's seeking employment at the palace, threatens Sarah's influence when she uncovers certain secrets and demonstrates her own talent for subterfuge.

"Critical" Analysis: Blame the current political climate for making the idea of a new movie about palace intrigue so appealing, possibly because the level of incompetence displayed by the present powers-that-be make one long for the relative sophistication and deviousness of the early 18th century. Fear not, for there is cunning aplenty in The Favourite.

Written by first-time screenwriter Deborah Davis (with polishing by Ashby's Tony McNamara), The Favourite wastes no time establishing our players, as Abigail's mud-smeared arrival positions her as the more debased yin to the Duchess of Marlborough's yang, the latter only gradually realizing she's grown complacent in her position and needing to reevaluate her new rival for the ailing Queen's attentions.

Political movies in which women are depicted as both protagonist and antagonist are almost nonexistent, which would be enough to set director Yorgos Lanthimos' effort apart even if it wasn't the most conventional film yet from the man responsible for The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Rarer still are movies in which every lead performance is deserving of accolades, but Colman (an increasingly addled Anne), Weisz  (ruthless and pragmatic), and Stone (naive, then overconfident) are all wonderful.

Of the males, Hoult is given the most to do, but Davis has deliberately and adroitly subveted the idea of men as prime plot movers and women as otherwise disregarded window dressing. She and Lanthimos put Harley, Sarah's husband John (Mark Gattis), and other various Dukes and Earls in harlequin makeup and outlandish wigs, leaving them to engage in ridiculous pursuits (though the duck race is oddly compelling), while Sarah and Abigail maneuver for leverage.

And for all their power behind the throne, the two women's place in society still remains tenuous. When Sarah finds herself injured and far from the castle, she's told she'll need to prostitute herself in order to compensate those who nursed her. And the scene where Abigail plots aloud against Sarah while giving an indifferent hand job to new husband Samuel (John Alwyn) is hilariously on-the-nose. It's the early modern spin on "backwards and in high heels."

The last days of the House of Stuart are depicted in all their often squalid and vulgar glory (the role of "Wanking Man" figures prominently in the credits), with each character in turn falling victim to some period misfortune, from gout to poisoned tea. Lanthimos juxtaposes this with the decadent luxury and sumptuous environs, but the message  is clear: no amount of creature comfort, or power, endures. 
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar