Way back during winter break, I kicked off 2019 with a series of excursions to the movie theater, an indulgence that my busy college schedule usually doesn’t permit. Upon visiting my grandparents in Florida for a week where they had settled in for the spring to avoid the chilly Ontario winters, we made a collective decision to see as many likely-to-be-nominated-for-an-Oscar movies as possible. This decision, of course, was made after staying awake to watch the Golden Globes.
When the question arose as to which movie we should see first, I immediately yelled The Favourite, a darkly comedic period piece starring Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone. By then I’d had multiple people tell me the movie wasn’t just good, but rather it was a masterpiece. One friend even admitted that the movie completely changed her opinion of Emma Stone, who managed to win my friend’s respect through her portraying of Abigail. Spurred on by these reviews, I decided I had to see for myself if this movie was deserving of all these compliments.
Credit: Atsushi Nishijima/Twentieth Century Fox
When the credits rolled, no words came to mind other than exceptional… Exceptional for the acting, exceptional for the story, and exceptional for its humor. And in the center of this movie’s masterful nature sits its three female stars: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, or rather, Queen Anne, Lady Sarah, and Abigail. In an effort to avoid a lengthy summary, Lady Sarah, an intimately close confidant of Queen Anne, ends up locked in a battle for, as the title suggests, the position of “the favorite” against her disgraced cousin Abigail, who metaphorically claws but literally poisons her way into Queen Anne’s good graces.
It is the emotional energy these actresses channel into their roles that allows this film to prevail as an overwhelming success. Queen Anne is a bumbling, obnoxious pile of fragility who can hardly look her Parliament in the face, let alone run a country. Yet she has depth. Audiences spend a vast portion of the movie watching her endure various levels of pain. There’s the physical pain wreaked upon her legs that hinders her mobility, and the emotional pain she channels into the care of 17 bunnies that hop freely around her chambers. Olivia Colman gives us a queen who has been beaten down by loss and burdened with responsibility whose gravity she’s not intelligent enough to comprehend. But she also gives us a queen who is unhinged enough to deliver her 33% of the movie’s comedic substance, as seen right out of the gates when she can’t distinguish winning a battle versus winning a war.
Credit: Fox Searchlight
Rachel Weisz sits at the forefront of power and prowess as Lady Sarah when the movie begins but soon sees her world usurped when she takes pity on her poor cousin Abigail and offers her a job as her personal maid. Lady Sarah embodies every characteristic that Queen Anne lacks. She is collected, cunning, graceful, and determined. Rachel Weisz projects these qualities so stunningly, that is somewhat painful to watch such a composed woman fall. But fall she does and for a long while, quite literally, when her horse drags her through the woods for an undetermined number of hours.
Lady Sarah’s character, however, is in no way stiff. Rachel Weisz gives her spirit, wit, and a wonderful sense of backward playfulness, as seen in moments when she is holding her gun and having a mud bath with Queen Anne. But the brilliance of Weisz’s performance is delivered at the movie’s conclusion when she leaves court and later faces impending exile. Lady Sarah can provide no tangible proof of victory, yet her calm, self-assured demeanor when all is lost leaves audiences convinced that this woman can never truly be beaten.
Credit: Fox Searchlight
Emma Stone completes the trio with a hilarious and gutsy character who samples power and decides she wants more. She plays Abigail, a disgraced lady who ends the movie with her title restored, yet at a seemingly high emotional price. Stone lends an undeniably funny edge to the movie. She is a ruthless tease who maneuvers her gentleman admirer into the role of marriage pawn, yet she is also charming in an offhand, unsophisticated manner. Her acting skills are put on fine display when she portrays Abigail’s arc from the innocent maid to a deceptive and power hungry lady of the court.
She begins the movie by taking a beating for her attempt to alleviate Queen Anne’s pain through homemade medicine. As the film progresses, however, this beaten character slips away into one who understands how to manipulate the Queen’s affections. Even a comment as innocent as “your hair is beautiful” subliminally plants the notion in Queen Anne’s mind that Lady Sarah has never complimented her hair before. Emma Stone then ends the movie with an impressive resume of calculating behavior. She wins over the queen, poisons Lady Sarah, gets her kicked out of court and exiled on false charges. Yet despite all her victories, Abigail lacks the experience Lady Sarah does in managing such an emotionally taxing affair in her relationship with Queen Anne. Emma Stone showcases this inexperience in the last moments of the movie, leaving everyone to wonder who emerges as the true victor.
Credit: Fox Searchlight
Lastly, I’ll give a small and insignificant portion of this review to the men of the movie so as to remain true to the level of worth their characters are intended to contribute. The men exist simply as foils for the plot and pawns that the three leading ladies can shuffle around if need be. And that is another reason why The Favourite is so brilliant— it lays all the glory at the feet of its female stars and lets them dominate the story. This film, without a doubt, deserves all ten of the Oscar nominations it received.
If you haven’t seen The Favourite yet, move it to the top of your movie bucket list. It is a captivating saga of power struggles, relationships, and witty humor that is sure to win over every audience member.