Movie Review | The Favourite
Movie summary: In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. (IMDb)
Out of the three historical movies led by women that I've seen recently, The Favourite was the first of them I saw and wasn't ever close to being topped by Colette or Mary Queen of Scots - so consider this a form of saving the best for last. Even if that 'saving' wasn't actually intentional and simply a beneficial side effect of getting my backside into gear and writing about the damn movie.
I also want to try and be more positive about this movie, because there is honestly a lot to like about The Favourite. For starters, it looks fantastic and is so well lit that I can honestly say that this is absolutely worth seeing on a big screen unless you have one hell of a home cinema system to show off how pretty this movie is.
And that's saying a lot considering how much of The Favourite consists of conversations indoors between various pairings or groups of people. It's not even particularly 'flashy' camerawork or any kind of extravagant lighting that's trying to simply wow you with some technicolor wizardry. The visuals simply make sure your attention is laser-focused on the fantastic performances.
Speaking of which, let's get the praise for Olivia Colman out of the way with recognition of just how incredibly good she is as Queen Anne. I wouldn't say that Anne is my favourite character in the film, but Colman certainly gives my favourite performance. She has to portray someone who is often unsure, yet stubborn; cheeky and also timid; intelligent, yet easily misled.
In the hands of a lesser performer, the role would have destroyed the movie thanks to how inherently contradictory Anne can be from one scene to the next. Yet Colman brings such genuine emotion to the part that you can't help but feel that this is a genuine person you're watching - one behaving in a very human and very relatable way despite her privileged, royal status. A masterclass performance.
My favourite character is actually Lady Sarah, played by Rachel Weisz, who I've loved in practically everything I've ever seen her in and can never understand why she hasn't had more major roles in her career. It may be down to personal choice on her part, but then you watch a movie like The Favourite and feel a little unhappy about how many other great performances we've missed out on.
While not quite on the same level as Colman, Weisz is still excellent in a role that - again - could've brought the movie down in less capable hands. Sarah is a forceful, and sometimes vengeful, woman who could easily be seen as an out-and-out antagonist, but I ended up feeling more sympathy for her than any other character by the time the movie was over.
Last, but by no means least of the central trio is Emma Stone as Abigail who, while still very good, is outshone a little by her co-stars. However, that's more praise for Colman and Weisz rather than criticism of Stone who is excellent in the role. How her character changes over the course of the movie is quite extreme, yet it never feels unbelievable.
Much like Mary Queen of Scots, The Favourite has multiple female leads who blow the rest of the cast of the screen with the abundance of talent they possess. It's almost a shame that the movie is structured the way it is, as I would've loved to see more of the central trio interacting with each other rather than the ending we did get.
Yes, much like Mary and Colette, this movie is 'sabotaged' by history, leaving what was a marvellous display of powerhouse performances to fizzle out in rather drab fashion. I get that The Favourite wants to point out that no-one really 'won' the three-way relationship, but it just didn't feel narratively satisfying and I really wish it could've found some way to make the same point earlier, soon after the trio are split.
The ending didn't ruin the movie for me - or even come close to doing so, in all honesty - but it did mean that The Favourite's final impression was not as positive as it should've been. And still, that's not quite why I don't really rate the film as highly as others have; it's actually because the final product feels less than the some of its parts.
To explain: you've read how much I love how the film looks, which also extends to the costuming, hair and make-up; you've read how much I love the characters and performances, which are as awards-worthy as they have so far proven to be; the sound design and score are also excellent; and the script is packed with enough drama and humour to satisfy someone seeking either.
Yet it never completely came together for me. I can look at each individual part of the film and (ending aside) think 'yes, this is excellent', but those parts never quite fit together as well as you'd imagine they should. It's almost as if each piece of The Favourite is the most perfectly-shaped piece it can be, yet they are shaped in such a way that they can't quite fit together as a whole.
I think The Favourite is one of those films that you will absolutely enjoy watching from start to (almost) finish, but will make you think twice when you go over it in your head. I imagine this reads as frustratingly vague criticism, and it's just as irritating to me - there is so much to like here, and I'm sure I will enjoy watching this movie again in the future, but it's just lacking that certain special 'something' to bring it all together.
The Favourite is really well-written, brilliantly acted and occasionally laugh out loud funny. Despite this, it never quite came together for me and ultimately felt like less than the sum of its parts. I'd definitely recommend seeing it at some point, but it just falls short of being truly brilliant.