I always dread period pieces, that it’s going to be all highfalutin royalty and frilly dresses and antiquated customs that don’t interest me. The Favourite will still satisfy those die-hard costume drama fans, but it won me over too.
Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) comes to work in Queen Anne (Olivia Colman)’s castle as a maid. She goes above and beyond and win’s favor with Anne, creating a rivalry with Anne’s former number two, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz).
There’s just enough governing that we get it. Anne is fighting a war, remotely from her luxurious castle, and she has to raise taxes to fund it. The Favourite is more about the personal insecurities, manipulations and rivalries that have not changed in the last few centuries.
Stone is such a good actor that Abigail inherits the benefits of her talents when she’s turning it on for Anne, or for Mr. Harley (Nicholas Hoult). Colman conveys the subtlety of a coddled woman dealing with human frailties when her world never gave her the tools to recognize them. Weisz is so formidable that it’s satisfying when Abigail bests Sarah, and sympathetic when Sarah crawls her way back.
There is also the frolicking with which the aristocracy fills their time in the 1700s. The debauchery escalates throughout the film, including a ballroom dance that would serve the Step Up crew.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos and cinematographer Robbie Ryan even make the usual ornate chambers look more interesting. They frame shots to create diagonal angles with walls, and low angles so we see the extra story and ceiling towering over the rich people.
They sometimes use curved lenses to bend long hallways or square rooms. The editing between those shots works too. A single scene could intercut between the peep hole lens to level shots for the other characters, and it’s smooth.
The Favourite still gets all Lanthimosy in the end. It lost me more there than in the period piece aspect, but it might be fun to see how the Jane Austen crowd reacts to a Yorgos Lanthimos ending.
The Favorite played at AFI Fest last week and opens in limited release November 23.