Royal Intrigue Fuels Eccentric Comedy Of Manners, 'The Favourite'

Nov 23, 2018
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Do not expect corgis and decorum. That's the word on the new movie comedy "The Favourite." There's palace intrigue and a British monarch, an 18th-century one - Queen Anne played by Olivia Colman. Our critic Bob Mondello has this review.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: To judge from "The Favourite," Queen Anne was not the easiest of employers to work for, especially if you were a lowly footman.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FAVOURITE")

OLIVIA COLMAN: (As Queen Anne) Did you just look at me? Look at me. How dare you? Close your eyes.

MONDELLO: When we meet the long-infantilized monarch, played by Olivia Colman, she's in near-constant pain from gout, is regarded as flat-out crazy by the men in her court and distracts herself by playing with 17 rabbits. On matters of state, she's a bit vague, relying on her confidant Lady Sarah, played by Rachel Weisz, to keep her clued in.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FAVORITE")

RACHEL WEISZ: (As Lady Sarah) We are at war.

COLMAN: (As Queen Anne) We won.

WEISZ: (As Lady Sarah) Oh, it is not over. We must continue.

COLMAN: (As Queen Anne) Oh. Oh, I did not know that.

MONDELLO: Lady Sarah is the power player behind Anne's throne, manipulating the queen to her own benefit and that of her husband, and even to the benefit of a titleless cousin who arrives at the palace fresh from being shoved into a dung heap.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FAVOURITE")

EMMA STONE: (As Abigail) I apologize for my appearance. I hoped I might be employed here by you as something.

WEISZ: (As Lady Sarah) A monster for the children to play with perhaps.

MONDELLO: Abigail, played by Emma Stone, manages to ingratiate herself first with Sarah, who makes her the queen's chambermaid but is smart enough to want to keep her on a short leash...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FAVOURITE")

WEISZ: (As Lady Sarah) Let's shoot something.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

WEISZ: (As Lady Sarah) Sometimes it is hard to remember whether you have loaded the pellet or not.

MONDELLO: ...Then with the queen, who proves susceptible to flattery....

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FAVOURITE")

STONE: (As Abigail) You're so beautiful.

COLMAN: (As Queen Anne) Stop it. How you mock me.

STONE: (As Abigail) If I were a man, I would ravish you.

MONDELLO: ...And then with members of the court who know the limits of the game she's playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FAVOURITE")

NICHOLAS HOULT: (As Harley) Favor is a breeze that shifts direction all the time. Then in an instant, you're back sleeping with a bunch of scabrous whores.

MONDELLO: Director Yorgos Lanthimos, the guy behind such cosmic weirdnesses as "The Lobster" and "The Killing Of A Sacred Deer," brings his trademark off-kilter style to his first period piece.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FAVOURITE")

COLMAN: (As Queen Anne) They were all staring, weren't they? I can tell even if I can't see. And I heard the word fat - fat.

WEISZ: (As Lady Sarah) No one but me would dare, and I did not.

MONDELLO: He shoots from disorienting angles, divides the film into chapters with titles like "I Dreamt I Stabbed You In The Eye" and throws in both a nude food fight and a minuet with clubby dance moves. He also gives his three leading ladies free reign to have at it, and they do so with gusto, Coleman especially finding the pathos in the queen's various infirmities, her dependence on others and her emotional isolation.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FAVOURITE")

WEISZ: (As Lady Sarah) None for the queen.

COLMAN: (As Queen) What?

WEISZ: (As Lady Sarah) Well, you cannot have hot chocolate. Your stomach - the sugar inflames it. Abigail, hand me that cup.

COLMAN: (As Queen Anne) Do not.

STONE: (As Abigail) I'm sorry. I do not know what to do.

WEISZ: (As Lady Sarah) Oh, fine, give it to her. Then you can get a bucket and mop the aftermath.

MONDELLO: The real Queen Anne reigned over England, Scotland and Ireland in the early 1700s, and it was during her reign that England and Scotland united to become Great Britain. You will not learn that from watching "The Favourite." I got it from the Encyclopedia Britannica, along with the fact that Restoration comedy was at its height right about then. That's what I was looking up because a Restoration comedy filtered through this director's eccentric, modern sensibilities is what "The Favourite" most resembles - witty, profane, sexually explicit, improper in the extreme, a comedy of manners without any manners at all. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANNA MEREDITH, SCOTTISH ENSEMBLE AND JONATHAN MORTON'S "ANNO/FOUR SEASONS: SOLSTICE - LIGHT OUT (WINTER)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.