Released: 26th December 2018
Seen: 14th January
There’s something about historical comedy that has always fascinated me, ever since I first saw an episode of Blackadder II and saw an exaggerated rendition of Queen Elizabeth the first. It was truly a masterpiece, the visual style of a historical drama with joke after joke thrown in for good measure created a contrast in ideas that I hadn’t imagined before. This interest carried over to movies, such as last years The Death Of Stalin, which have been able to blend history with a sense of wit and ups the production values to the point where a film can look like a historical epic but have some of the funniest dialogue put on screen. With a film like The Favourite, we not only get to enjoy another comedic interpretation of a Queen but, once again, we mix elements of a biopic and a comedy to get something that can be genuinely fun… most of the time.
The Favourite follows the story of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her lover Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). Sarah is seemingly running the kingdom, using her power over Anne to influence the decision on whether the country should go to war among other things. Anne is clearly getting frailer and more eccentric, losing 17 children in childbirth will do that to someone. On one particularly fateful day, Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives at the castle, revealing herself as Sarah’s cousin and using her own wiles in order to get into the queens good graces. It’s a battle between the cousins for who can earn the heart and the ear of the monarch… also there is so much lesbianism, all of the lesbianism, huzzah for lesbian representation!
I’m coming into this movie spectacularly late, mostly due to Australia’s release schedule being predictably bad. This means that I can’t pretend that I went into this one blind. I’m seeing this mere days after the Golden Globes where every one of the lead actresses was nominated for an award and Olivia Colman walked home with one so I already had an idea that I was in for something good but I didn’t expect the level of brilliance I got out of the lead actresses. Olivia not only earned her globe easily but she’s going to give everyone a run for their money when Oscar time comes, creating this larger than life character that goes between glorious shrieking insanity to genuine moments of pain and anguish. There are several times when the camera just locks on her face and we only hear the things going on around her and you can watch in real time how she’s being torn apart by the people around her. Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz have some of the most fun bickering moments, lobbing insults at each other with effortless ease from the minute they start sharing the screen until the second the movie ends.
This entire cinematic experience really satisfied my need for a film about historical lesbians throwing pointed barbs at each other while wearing elaborate frocks and speaking in early 1700’s era English accents… it’s a specific need that I’ve been needing to be filled and I’m glad it finally happened. They really don’t shy away from the lesbianism here and each character is fascinating, well rounded and is either using her sexuality as a weapon, genuinely happy to have someone show her affection, or figuring things out as she goes along. All three are interesting ways to play their roles and every single one of them is engaging as hell.
Where this film fumbles the ball, at least as far as I’m concerned, is the pacing which is obscenely slow at points. While there are times I really love the use of a long-held single take, such as the shot of Olivia Colman’s face as she watched a dance scene and slowly realises something, there are other times when it just slows everything down to a snail’s pace and it feels jarring to go from these moments of verbal sparring or a high energy moment of Olivia screaming at a guard, to some sluggishly slow scenes that made this two hour film feel even longer. I’m not saying every comedy needs to be brisk and quick cut, it’s clearly an intentional style choice by a very good director who knows what he’s doing but it just doesn’t work for me. There were moments I could feel myself zoning out and just not caring because everything had slowed down so much.
In general, The Favourite is a clever comedic tale with sublime performances by some of the best actresses working today. It isn’t afraid to take chances, it has some great scenes and looks incredible. While there is some drag that does get a little bothersome, it’s a brilliant movie that deserves every ounce of praise it’s been getting and then some.