In The Favourite Yorgos Lanthimos again features animals as symbols and representations as he did in The Lobster and Killing of a Sacred Deer. In those, they were bizarre and disturbing, in The Favourite they are pretty straightforward, representing the children lost by Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). If fact the film is a relatively straightforward tale (inspired by true events) of court plotting, political powerplay and skulduggery.

However, that plot is driven by a scalpel sharp and ripe script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara that deftly gives the splendid cast ample room to play with but not go over the top. And there is real scope for the cast to ham this up with the costumes, ridiculous wigs and fashionably ghastly make-up fashionable at the time.

A downfallen lady Abigail (Emma Stone) turns up at court asking her cousin Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) for a post. Sarah is the queen’s advisor seemingly all but taken over the Court from a muddled and gout-ridden Queen Anne. War with France has the country spending money it doesn’t have and forcing an increase in land taxes. A decision counselled by Sarah, bitterly opposed by the landed gentry who have all the money and plenty of seats in parliament.

The politics of the war, twine with the politics of the court as Abigail shrewdly gains favour with the queen, working her way out of the kitchen into the parlour, and her bedroom. Thereby vexing Sarah and attracting the attention landowner Harley (Nicholas Hoult) sniffing for some leverage in his quest to get rid of the tax increase.

Self-interest is the name of the game here not just for Harley. Sarah’s husband the Duke of Marlborough (Mark Gatiss) just happens to be leading the troops in France! As for Abigail, the former ‘Lady’ is not operating with any sense of altruism.

Colman, Weisz and Stone are the triumvirate around which the film revolves, with Queen Anne dipping in and out of control, as the others circle each other. It’s a masterful complex performance from Colman; a woman wracked with physical and mental pain, by turns out of her depth and viciously manipulated but also fully aware of the power she has at her disposal as the monarch.

It’s also darkly funny, even cruel; the queen strapped up in leather to help her walk, Harley subtly rubbing his wooden-staff up and down while listening to the opposition’s speech in parliament. The dialogue going from the intricate to the crude in an instance jars though not incongruous.

It is a beautiful film with the sumptuousness of the court interiors and outside landscapes vividly displayed by Lanthimos’s use of various filmic techniques. These give the film a geometric precision that prods it towards Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtman’s Contract and Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon – the latter with the vivid use of candles, torches and braziers – making The Favourite a visual delight.

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