THE FAVOURITE (2018, Yorgos Lanthimos)
Fast-paced, scabrous, and devilishly irreverent, this is not the stuffy Anglophilic period piece you expect to see around Oscar-bait time. It’s an acidic sour candy you suck on for two hours then feel a little lacking in nutrients. Not to say Lanthimos’s hired-gun follow-up to the more personally substantial THE LOBSTER and KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (his breakthrough features following smaller Greek efforts like DOGTOOTH and ALPS) isn’t rich in quality — it has all-star skill to spare in every department from production design and cinematography to the stellar cast — but the only drawback is that when it’s over, you feel like it’s over. None of the noise echoes past the two hours you spend in its spell.
But oh, that cast. Emma Stone plays against type deliciously, at first earning your sympathies, then mocking your naiveté. Olivia Colman is fierce from the opening shot, where she stands firm and regal until the crown is removed from her head, at which point she almost collapses from the literal and metaphorical weight removed. And Nicholas Hoult – unrecognizable from his days as the adorable moppet from ABOUT A BOY (or even the wan sex object from A SINGLE MAN) – is having a blast as an obnoxious, sneering Jared Kushner-type.
What develops in this darkly comedic retelling of Queen Anne’s real-life relationships with Lady Sarah Marlborough and Abigail is a caustic reminder that in governments structured around dictatorships or aristocracies, everything from taxes to wars can be decided upon (and inflicted upon the masses) based on the whims of a jealous lover or a betrayed, scorned victim. The things that make humans malicious actors, beholden to the vagaries of revenge, love, and greed, are the same things that can make or ruin a country.