Perhaps the biggest surprise at this year’s Oscars was Olivia Colman taking the Best Actress trophy. In the lead up, most pundits assumed the competition was between Lady Gaga and perennial nominee Glenn Close, but Colman managed to swoop in and nab the prize. It was an unexpected moment, but one that was incredibly well-deserved.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite takes historical figure Anne, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and uses her life to craft a compelling story of loss, romance, and the pursuit of power. Davis and McNamara place Anne at the center of a love triangle as Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), and Sarah’s estranged cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) compete to curry Anne’s favor. Sarah is the Queen’s current “favourite”—she’s Anne’s righthand woman and also lover, and Abigail envies her for it. What pursues is a darkly comic costume drama, with Sarah and Abigail doing whatever it takes to gain power.
The movie’s greatest triumph is Anne’s character. At times, the Queen behaves like a petulant child, but she’s still a sympathetic figure. She suffers from gout and must constantly endure the pain that goes with it; she had seventeen pregnancies yet no children (the oldest lived 20 months, but most of her other pregnancies ended in either stillbirths or miscarriages) and keeps seventeen pet rabbits in their memory; and everyone uses her for their own selfish means. Colman’s pitch-perfect performance, Lanthimos’ precise direction, and Davis and McNamara’s sharp writing capture so much pain and longing. However, they never abandon the film’s tone, and the tone never cheapens Anne’s story.
The film’s historicity is debatable, and they surely took liberties here and there (rabbits weren’t a common pet in the early 1700s), but the movie nevertheless is a compelling portrait of a queen and the loneliness of being a monarch. It’s a great movie that sadly didn’t win more Oscars, but The Favourite will be remembered for years to come.