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Movie Review

Movie Review: 'The Favourite'

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There’s a music cue in The Favourite that I was sure was a nod to Stanley Kubrick’s exquisite film Barry Lyndon. It would make sense — both are set in a similar time and place, and The Favourite must have been heavily influenced by Kubrick. But, no: I realized I actually recognized the music from the film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. OK, so there’s no direct comparison between The Favourite and Buffy, but there is more to this than you might expect: Although the reasons are different, I don’t believe either movie takes its subject very seriously.

The Favourite lands us in the 18th century court of Queen Anne, when England is at war and politics are tenuous. Anne is overly influenced by her friend Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough — at least until Abigail, Sarah’s disgraced cousin, shows up, and a more intimate war begins over Abigail’s swift upward mobility, and which of the two cousins will ultimately win control over Anne, who is rapidly deteriorating in mental and physical health.

The Favourite is by far director Yorgos Lanthimos’s best and most accessible movie. He’s a polarizing filmmaker, but he seems to have curbed at least some of his worst impulses, especially what often appears to be a genuine hatred for his characters, and for the first time, I found actual human emotion in his work. Maybe he’s growing as a director, but I also think a lot of the credit for this goes to his three leads, Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, who are all superb — especially Colman, who is devastating as Queen Anne. Still, Lanthimos very clearly cares more about himself than them, unable to resist injecting himself into the movie, often in an ugly way, and usually to its detriment. He’s just not to a place yet where he can let a good story tell itself.

But whatever faults Lanthimos has, I repeat: The acting here is exceptional, layered with anxiety, insecurity, and pain, and almost certain to be recognized come Oscar time.