SP Review: 'The Favourite' is a period piece with originality and amibition

Arts and culture reporter Brandon King gives 'The Favourite' 9/10 stars

Dramatic storylines, grand performances and exquisite fashion design are expected to dominate the screen in period piece dramas, but a period piece directed by Yorgos Lanthimos is anything but expected.

What "The Lobster" director ends up delivering with "The Favourite" is one of the most interesting period dramas I've seen in a while. With a pompous tone, it flaunts the whole way through and is anchored by three fascinatingly melodramatic lead performances. 

Set in the early 1700s, Queen Anne (played by Olivia Colman) reigns over England. As queen, she has a "favourite," or loyal companion, in Sarah Churchill (played by Rachel Weisz) who often speaks for Anne since she is too sick to deal with government matters. 

Enter Sarah's cousin Abigail (played by Emma Stone), a disgraced relative who comes to work for Sarah in the queen's home. Initially only working as a barmaid, Abigail quickly begins to gain favor and influence with Anne, making Sarah jealous and concerned. It's now a royal triangle of power growing between Anne, Sarah and Abigail, with the parties of parliament caught in the middle. 

What "The Favourite" has going for it above anything else is its tone. While it looks and sounds like an average 18th-century period piece, there's a certain atmosphere Lanthimos always keeps in the foreground. It's still very much a period piece, and you've seen some of these images of 18th-century England before, but there's something just off-kilter enough to keep you on your toes. 

Even more, cinematographer Robbie Ryan often puts scenes in the context of a fishbowl lens or oddly framed close-ups, never allowing us as the audience to look away, and it's an ambitious technique for a film as big as this is. 

If you read my review of "The Front Runner," you know that while I was impressed with the handling of the female characters, that film often relegated those characters to the background. This film is the exact opposite — the women of this film are fully developed, have most of the dialogue, and they call the shots. 

There are a few instances where some problematic ideas of the era are brought up, and even though they aren't necessarily dealt with, the characters who threaten the women have no real power to do so. 

Granted, it's more a sense of circumstance rather than nuance, but it's still an empowering visual to put forth — a government of men who, for all their privilege, can't stop the women around them from being themselves.

Individually, the three main performances by the woman in the film are terrific. When the worst of your main trio of actresses is Stone, you're on to something great. She gets a lot of the film's more subtle moments, though she is very much playing into the same vein as her co-stars, and I was also impressed with her British accent. 

Colman as Queen Anne is getting a lot of awards chatter at the moment, and I'm not necessarily surprised. She gets some great quips for sure, but more than that is a sense of loneliness she gives. She's a woman who desperately wants to feel needed in life beyond just being royalty, and Colman gives this role class in an increasingly bizarre film. 

However, in my opinion Weisz is the real star of this movie. She gives a fantastic sense of calculated poise yet still presents a moral compass at her center. Because of Sarah's unique traits, she has a much more interesting relationship with Anne than Abigail does, and I loved every second she was on screen. 

If there's anything to complain about with "The Favourite," it's the unorthodox nature of the film. This isn't your average period piece: it's satirical and doesn't focus so much on the glamour as much as on the influence of glamour.

While its strangeness is sometimes an advantage, there are a few moments of bona fide pretentiousness which are meant to be satirical but wind up falling flat. It's not that this movie isn't funny (on a few occasions it's hilarious), but sometimes it feels a bit too focused on the melodrama rather than commenting on it.

By the end of its two-hour runtime, I was enthralled with what this movie was going for. I admire its ideas, its characters and the overall sense of admiration the film seems to have for its audience. 

I guess if you're a purist for British period pieces, this might not be one to get you out to the theaters. But for anyone else, it's a treat with terrific performances, timely ideas and all the right pieces — plus a little something extra. 

Overall, I give "The Favourite" 9/10 stars.

Reach the reporter at brandon.D.King@asu.edu or follow @TheMovieKing45 on Twitter.

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