“The Favourite” is hardly one of those stuffy period pieces, complete with expensive costumes and castles.
It’s like a cinematic “Hamilton,” giving a contemporary spin to an old story. At the center of it all: the petulant Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), who is easily manipulated.
She’s told what to do and when by Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), a cold enforcer who bows to no one. When her cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone), is in need of a job, she takes her in and discovers she’s equally calculating.
The two vie for Anne’s affections and come away with scars, seen and unseen.
But the joy of Yorgos Lanthinmos’ film isn’t in the kill, but the hunt. Using plenty of wide angle shots, he lets audiences see the full picture (including a herd of rabbits) and the spoils they’re seeking. He mixes contemporary music with classical and gets proper Englishmen to get down and dance. It’s a wild interpretation that works because it’s just as audacious and brazen as its participants.
Comparisons to “All About Eve” are not unwelcome. Stone is the fawning Eve Harrington, Weisz is the stern Margo Channing.
And Colman? She’s such an original even Judi Dench's Queen Victoria couldn’t touch her. Constantly whining, she’s like a baby who needs changing. She toys with the affections of those at her bidding and isn’t afraid to shut them down if they think they’re gaining an edge.
Lanthinmos suggests there was more to this triangle than history would allow, but he doesn’t make it an easy relationship. Both women-in-waiting use their wiles to control the queen; both extend their reach into the rest of the court.
Weisz wins many of the head-to-head confrontations, but that’s just because she’s used to being in charge. When Stone tries her own stealth moves, “The Favourite” is up for grabs.
Men factor into the equation as well – particularly when Lanthinmos focuses on the war and the need for raising taxes. Contemporary parallels aren’t by accident; stray rabbits, however, may be.
To show how really unhinged Anne is (and this is where Colman shines), Lanthinmos puts her in compromising positions, then sits back to see who squirms first.
Those wide-angle shots may be disconcerting but they provide breathing room, particularly since two men, Harley (Nicholas Hoult) and Masham (Joe Alwyn), have their own claustrophobic agendas.
Cut from the same cloth as “Barry Lyndon," “The Favourite” is very much an original in substance. Like “Hamilton,” it begs a second look.
Sometimes, you may want a third or a fourth.