The Favourite

Dec 13, 2018

A Restoration piece of wit and beauty, and rudeness to delight the jaded. One of the best films of 2018.

The Favourite

Grade: A

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos (The Killing of a Sacred Deer)

Screenplay:  Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara (Ashby)

Cast: Olivia Coleman (The Lobster), Emma Stone (La La Land)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 59 min

By: John DeSando

As a period dramedy about palace intrigue, The Favourite, concerning early18th century’s British Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) and her courtiers, is a pleasant companion piece to the intrigue-laden Dangerous Liaisons. Only this time the Queen has her eye on her two close female attendants, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), who has been with the queen since childhood, and Abigail (Emma Stone), a former lady arriving at the manor to be a lowly servant. The principle location, the Jacobean Hatfield House  in Hertfordshire, is a regal playground for shenanigans fit for pets in cages, like bunny rabbits.

Part of the perfection of this killer comedy is the set design with tapestries and furniture as ornate and beautiful as you’d expect in a  museum. The palace is about as gorgeous as Blenheim, and the costumes are as plush as the draperies.  In short, the mise en scene is to die for Baroque. This attention to detail is what can be expected of director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Lobster were memorably rich while spare at the same time. In Favourite the occasional use of a disorienting wide fish-eye lens to survey the house and landscape while furiously moving is worthy of Orson Welles at this wildest.

However, it’s always about the people, and this house of liaisons and deceptions is two hours of putdowns and poison; not a moment is dull. Abagail’s co-opting the Queen’s affection from Lady Sarah provides the spark for the fire between the two ambitious young ladies. Without being too obvious, the film speaks powerfully about the need for women then and now to employ serious wit to get around the male-dominated world. The battle has further significance because the Queen needs all the help she can get, and these ladies are ready and willing. Along for the contest are factions of British politics, war Whigs and  landowning Tories vying for the Queen’s attention to a real-world battle with the French.

As the credits roll, some of the film’s eccentricity becomes evident: “Nude Pomegranate Tory” and “Fastest Duck in the City” remind how silly and yet shocking it can be. Notwithstanding the chapter headings like “The Mud Stinks,” from Handel through Vivaldi to modernist Anna Meredith, the music counterpoints the raucous doings accompanied by biting, crisp dialogue.

Through it all the determining factor is the off-balance Queen, whose whimsy could bring down a kingdom. The comparison can be made to contemporary times, where a chaotic White House begs for overthrow or at least complete dysfunction. History repeats, and if it must, we’d do well to look back a few centuries when palace intrigue appears highly amusing but through a camera lens, frightening.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at