Marketed as a burlesque comedy, Yorgos Lanthimos‘ The Favourite is in truth, far more textured and melancholic than its trailer might suggest. With echoes of Bill Douglas’ Comrades and Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, the film catches a distinctive moment in early British political history where women – such as Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) her equal in Machiavellian prowess Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) and, nominally, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) – ruled.
Deftly interpreting the subtleties of Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s script, Colman, Weiss and Stone’s detailed performances defy the easy caricatures of either the femme fatale or virago. The combined effect is a scathing, often gleeful disruption of the comforting cliches of ‘Quality’ British period dramas – and the politics that sustain them.
In this era of Brexiteer fantasy there is much to enjoy in watching the gouty-kneed, lye-burned and bloodied realists of The Favourite gleefully tear Downton Abbey a new one. As Lady Marlborough observes to the Farageian Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult) ‘Sometimes a lady likes to have some fun.’