The Favourite Was Certainly Not My Favourite This Awards Season
The Oscar nominated film The Favourite has garnered quite the buzz this awards season with a 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Frankly, I struggle to understand why.
There was one scene in The Favourite that cut back and forth between a group of aristocrats pelting tomatoes at naked man, and an unconscious Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) being dragged through the forest by a horse. This is precisely how I felt throughout the course my viewing of The Favourite.
Two hours into the film, I did something I never do: I grew irritated and walked out of the theatre, remaining in a foul mood for the rest of the evening.
The Favourite is a period dramedy that takes place in the 18th century during Queen Anne’s reign. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is a deeply damaged individual fraught with both physical and mental anguish. Due to her state of being, she requires her trustful friend, Lady Sarah (Weisz), to assist her in governing Great Britain. When Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) suddenly arrives at the estate to request employment, Abigail quickly rises to become the Queen’s preferred companion, creating an fiercely competitive and nasty rivalry between the two cousins.
The Favourite is a strong female film that is funny but not laugh out loud funny. It’s more of a chuckle here and there to mask the vicious intensity of power-hungry maniacs Stone and Weisz clawing their way to the top of the hierarchy.
The fight to become the Queen’s premiere person pushes each women to stoop low and do despicable things. At their core, every character is void of morals. Stone’s character in particular is ambitiously abhorrent in her actions. She says of herself: “I’m on my side, always. As it turns out I’m capable of much unpleasantness.”
Indeed, she is. On many occasion. She poisons Lady Sarah’s tea, beats herself up with a hardcover book and blames it on Sarah, and sneaks into Queen Anne’s room in the middle of the night to perform sexual favours.
Weisz’s character is no better. She is expertly deceiving and cunning, saying lines like “If you do not go, I will start kicking you and I will not stop” through gritted teeth. Lady Sarah is shallow and likely does not care about Queen Anne at all. She is so wrapped up in the idea of harnessing power that nothing else matters. As a viewer, it is hard to watch female characters turn on each other so harshly and behave in such despicable ways.
The girl-on-girl action mentioned above was no mistake. The sexual nature of Anne’s relationships with Abigail and Sarah is certainly the most shocking element of the film. The overt sexuality in the film was unexpected, overdone, and at times, vulgar. In a theatre of mostly elderly people, this did not go over well. The film’s patrons were consensually uncomfortable, covering their eyes during the numerous raunchy sex scenes.
The Favourite only has two redeeming qualities. The first is Colman, Stone and Weisz’s thrilling and Oscar-worthy performances. Stone’s performance quite literally begins with a roar and Weisz is exceptionally stoic.
Queen Anne is without question the most likeable character in the movie. Colman especially dazzles playing crazy and depressed equally as beautiful. The queen, as Lady Sarah describes her, is “an extraordinary person who has been stalked by tragedy”, suffering from gout, an undisclosed mental illness, and the aftermath of 17 miscarriages.
Despite her devastating history, writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara make her the wittiest character in the film and the audience cannot help but root for her. Her child-like innocence and insecurity is captivating. In one scene, the Queen dramatically fakes fainting so that she would not have to give a speech. It’s melodramatic - she flings the back of her hand to her forehead and sighs all the way down - and is my favourite part. I would be lying if I said this has not crossed my mind more than once.
The second redeeming quality is the costumes. Costume designer Sandy Powell, did a magnificent job constructing the corsets and bedecking bodices. The talented costumer is also nominated for her clothing design in Mary Poppins Returns. Her chances are high in that category and is certainly deserving of recognition.
The most annoying aspect was certainly the score. The sounds of piercing organs and shrill violins were comparable to nails on a chalkboard. Many audience members around me plugged their ears.
I wish I could tell you how Yorgos Lanthimos’s film The Favourite ends, but I have no idea. It was disturbing, uncomfortable, reckless and annoying. I for one, certainly would not waste a gruelling 120 minutes on it.
The Favourite is in select theatres across Ontario now.