The Favourite

The Favourite

2018, R, 119 min. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, Mark Gatiss, James Smith.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Nov. 30, 2018

Power is a fickle thing. There are those who hold it that have no idea what it is, and those that grasp for it, terrified of its loss. It slithers between people, and in the The Favourite, the scintillating black comedy of manners from Yorgos Lanthimos, it latches its fangs in deep.

"You are mad," Sarah Churchill (Weisz) says in one of the few moments of honesty from her manipulative mouth. As Duchess of Marlborough and Mistress of the Robes (the highest office any woman could hold), she is the confidante to Queen Anne of Great Britain (Colman). Isolated from the wider world, Sarah is the lens through which the increasingly crippled monarch sees affairs of state, and her only remaining true friend. Or at least that's how Sarah has made her state of affairs seem, and that's how it will remain until Sarah's distant cousin Abigail (Stone) appears. Having fallen on hard times, this former noblewoman just wants a job, but her ambition is no less than Sarah's steely determination, and both know that having access to the queen's ear and bed is the path to their ends.

In works like The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Lanthimos has added a courtly formality to everyday modern life: With this historical drama, he centers on the complex interpersonal relationships between the real Anne, Sarah, and Abigail in the English court between 1704 and 1711.

Historically, Anne only acceded to the throne because she wasn't Catholic, making her reign unusual as one of the few women to hold the British throne alone. That female power dynamic, and how Sarah and Abigail snipe, cajole, menace, flatter, and even bully Anne to get their way is a rare delight. And this is about power in all its forms, where sex and policy and even brute violence are deployed as the moment calls for it. For much of the film the men are either on the periphery (Hoult, gloriously foppish as Speaker of the House of Commons Robert Harley, and constantly furious at Sarah's quiet grasp of the throne), engaged in an endless European war (Gatiss as Sarah's husband, the Duke of Marlborough), or completely unseen (Anne's husband, Prince George of Denmark, lives and dies, unmentioned, offscreen). Weisz dances in her role as a woman always on the edge of power, never tipping her hand as to whether she feels real affection for Anne, or for Marlborough, whom she blithely dispatches to combat. While Stone's Abigail is inflexible in her aim, Sarah knows when to bend like a rapier and when to stiffen like the executioner's axe blade. It's not purely ambiguous what their motivations are – rather, in a sign of great writing, they contain many, often contradictory, impulses. It's what they're prepared to do to achieve their ends, and both actresses give searingly funny and pointed performances, exercises in determination.

By contrast, Colman's Anne is a lunatic. Mercurial, babbling, often confused, a spoiled child in charge of a country. What becomes important, as slowly unfurled by the long-gestating script from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, are the multitudinous reasons for her broken mental state – or, as Sarah puts it, that she is stalked by tragedy. As Anne teeters between lucidity and agony, Colman knows how to keep her on just the right side of absurdity.

Not that Lanthimos is afraid of the absurd. That is, after all, his métier. By working (for the first time) from someone else's script, it's almost as if he has more space to concentrate on how ludicrous the formality of everything is – especially when Abigail and Sarah exchange pointed deflections, or a court dance that takes a sudden, preposterous twist that will leave you howling. The seesawing natures of both power and Anne's mind are caught in a score that veers between Handel's baroque tendencies and the brutality of Steve Reich at his most minimalist (the latter the work of Lanthimos regular Johnnie Burn). All this caught in the daring cinematography of Robbie Ryan, who shreds all the conventions of capturing the period, and The Favourite immediately lives up to its name.

Showtimes

Sat., Dec. 15

10:20am, 1:25, 4:30, 6:15, 7:05, 7:45, 10:05, 10:45

Sun., Dec. 16

9:45am, 12:25, 3:55, 6:00, 9:10, 10:00

Mon., Dec. 17

11:10am, 2:25, 4:25, 7:30, 9:35, 10:30

Tue., Dec. 18

4:10, 8:00, 10:25
AFA 12:50

Alamo Drafthouse Village

2700 W. Anderson #701, 512/861-7030, www.drafthouse.com/austin/theater/village

Tuesday matinee Baby Day shows (first show of the day) are intended for parents and their children younger than 6. Showtimes at this venue are subject to frequent change. Please confirm daily times by phone or website.

Sat., Dec. 15

10:30am, 1:30, 4:35, 7:40, 10:50

Sun., Dec. 16

12:45, 4:00, 7:00, 10:20

Mon., Dec. 17

12:25, 4:25, 7:30, 10:35

Tue., Dec. 18

3:50, 7:30, 10:35
AFA 12:45

Arbor Cinema @ Great Hills

9828 Great Hills Trail, 512/231-9742

Discounts daily before 6pm.

Sat., Dec. 15

CC/DVS 12:20, 3:20, 6:50, 9:45

Sun., Dec. 16

CC/DVS 12:20, 3:20, 6:50, 9:45

Mon., Dec. 17

CC/DVS 12:20, 3:20, 6:50, 9:45

Tue., Dec. 18

CC/DVS 12:20, 3:20, 6:50, 9:45

Wed., Dec. 19

CC/DVS 12:20, 3:20, 6:50, 9:45

Thu., Dec. 20

CC/DVS 12:20, 3:20, 6:50, 9:45

Sat., Dec. 15

digital 10:40am, 1:40, 4:40, 7:45, 10:40

Sun., Dec. 16

digital 10:40am, 1:40, 4:40, 7:45, 10:40

Mon., Dec. 17

digital 10:40am, 1:40, 4:40, 7:45, 10:40

Tue., Dec. 18

digital 10:40am, 1:40, 4:40, 7:45, 10:40

Cinemark Southpark Meadows

9900 S. I-35, 800/326-3264

Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Sat., Dec. 15

digital 11:05am, 1:50, 4:35, 7:25, 10:15

Sun., Dec. 16

digital 11:05am, 1:50, 4:35, 7:25, 10:15

Mon., Dec. 17

digital 11:05am, 1:50, 4:35, 7:25, 10:15

Tue., Dec. 18

digital 11:05am, 1:50, 4:35, 7:25, 10:15

Wed., Dec. 19

digital 11:05am, 1:50, 4:35, 7:25, 10:15

Violet Crown Cinema

434 W. Second, 512/495-9600, www.violetcrowncinema.com

Four-hour parking validation in attached garage with ticket purchase. Reserved seating; bar and cafe on-site.

Sat., Dec. 15

10:45am, 1:15, 5:10, 7:40, 10:10

Sun., Dec. 16

10:45am, 1:15, 5:10, 7:40, 10:10

Mon., Dec. 17

10:45am, 1:15, 5:10, 7:40, 10:10

Tue., Dec. 18

10:45am, 1:15, 5:10, 7:40, 10:10

Wed., Dec. 19

10:45am, 1:15, 4:50, 7:10, 10:10

Thu., Dec. 20

10:45am, 1:15, 4:50, 7:10, 10:10

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Yorgos Lanthimos
Gary Hart Biopic <i>The Front Runner</i> to Close Austin Film Festival
AFF Announces Second Wave
New films by Yorgos Lanthimos, Asghar Farhadi added to fest

Richard Whittaker, Sept. 12, 2018

How to Kill a <i>Sacred Deer</i>
How to Kill a Sacred Deer
Barry Keoghan on good, evil, and Colin Farrell's beard

Richard Whittaker, Oct. 27, 2017

More Yorgos Lanthimos Films
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The director of The Lobster returns with another salvo

Marjorie Baumgarten, Oct. 27, 2017

The Lobster
The Dogtooth director is back with another fractured parable

Josh Kupecki, May 20, 2016

More by Richard Whittaker
Time to Summon a Demon!
Time to Summon a Demon!
Watch the latest short from Austin's Chris McInroy

Dec. 14, 2018

The Personal Stories Behind <i>Ben Is Back</i>
The Personal Stories Behind Ben Is Back
Writer/director Peter Hedges on family, alcoholism, and going home

Dec. 14, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos, Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, Mark Gatiss, James Smith

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle