Any concern that an elegantly mounted, star-studded period piece set during the War of Spanish Succession might have diluted Greek surrealist Yorgos Lanthimos' particular brand of sadism turns out to be entirely unwarranted. That becomes clear just moments in, as soon as Academy Award winner Emma Stone falls out of a horse-drawn carriage and into a pile of shit. Face first. If anything, The Favourite takes to scabrous new levels the Dogtooth and The Lobster director's fascination with the absurdity of social mores and the thin line between power and humiliation.
Stone plays the impoverished, fallen-from-grace Lady Abigail, the daughter of a one-time nobleman who lost her in a card game. She has arrived at the court of Britain's Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), seeking help from Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), the monarch's close friend and personal adviser and, as it so happens, a distant relative of Abigail's. Don't expect any family warmth, however. The cool, calculating, judgmental Sarah regards Abigail with a mixture of bemusement and disgust. Nevertheless, Abigail gets a job as a servant, and a bath.
The young arrival, however, turns out to be a quick study, finding that she can navigate the palace's seemingly genteel world of obsequiousness, self-abasement and manipulation as well as anyone. Sarah's relationship with the Queen extends also to intimate matters, and Abigail begins to discover the power of sex in matters of state. The trio of lead actresses dig into their parts with gusto, but beneath all their conniving and backstabbing, these women act like they deeply need this proximity to power -- that it's the one thing keeping them from ignominy and destruction.