[Screen It]


(2018) (Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone) (R)

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Drama: Two women -- one already established in the role and the other a newcomer to the court -- vie for the role of personal aide and lover to the partially senile Queen of England.
It's the early 18th century and Queen Anne (OLIVIA COLMAN) is the widowed ruling monarch of England. But she's in bad health and her mental state is unstable at times, so much so that she relies on the assistance of her personal aide, Lady Sarah (RACHEL WEISZ), whose husband runs the military. With the country at war with France and Sarah being a war hawk, she ends up making decisions on the Queen's behalf, sometimes with the monarch not even knowing that's occurred.

Sarah holds so much power and is so close to the Queen -- including in the bedroom -- that no one dares challenge her, be that Prime Minister Godolphin (JAMES SMITH) or Tory leader Harley (NICHOLAS HOULT) who's against the war tax increase Sarah is pushing. But things change when her cousin, Abigail (EMMA STONE), arrives at the court looking for work. Once from a noble family, she's fallen onto hard times, what with her father having lost her at the age of 15 in a card game.

Sarah gives her a job as a scullery maid, but when Abigail mixes up a concoction that helps heal the Queen's gout-stricken legs, the young woman suddenly realizes her path. And that's first to convince Sarah that she's her loyal assistant and once that's done, do the same in regard to the Queen. While doing so, she must contend with the romantic interest of courtier Masham (JOE ALWYN), all while Sarah attempts to undermine her once she recognizes her cousin's plan to take over her position with the Queen.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
For reasons that sometimes escape me, a lot of people simply can't get enough of movies and especially TV shows about various incarnations of the British monarchy. I know, some of it's residual after-effects of the Lady Diana cultural phenomenon and having grown up learning about many of the kings, queens and other such figures through the centuries.

While I've seen a lot of those sorts of films and some episodes of the popular programs on PBS, Netflix and elsewhere, I don't know that I've ever gone out of my way to watch any of them when something else is available. It's not that I think they're bad or below me, but such figures and their trappings usually don't do much for me.

Yes, they're often brimming with terrific tech details, good performances and more than able writing and direction, but such costume dramas simply aren't my usual cup of tea. Thus, when something comes along that shakes up such things a bit, I often find such aberrations from the norm as something that often prove intriguing.

Such is definitely the case with "The Favourite," an over the top tale that I initially thought was pure fiction as I watched it unfold, but later learned it's based on a real-life monarch, Queen Anne, and the various figures in and around her court. That said, I have no idea how much of what's present is historically accurate versus some or liberal amounts of artistic interpretation on the part of those behind and in front of the camera.

But I can say that while its basic underlying story could fit into most any other "regular" historical costume drama, the way everything plays out might come as a shock to the system of those who regularly consume such material. And by that I mean it's filled with salty, R-rated language, sexual encounters (both straight and lesbian), nudity and enough wild, artistic flair to more than fill an entire season of "The Crown" or other such offerings of that ilk.

As directed by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos from a screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, the story revolves around the sickly and somewhat demented monarch (a fabulous Olivia Colman) who might be the figurehead of early eighteenth century England, but has unknowingly ceded most state decisions to her personal assistant (Rachel Weisz). The latter literally and figuratively lords over other prominent power figures of the day (such as James Smith as the Prime Minister and Nicholas Hoult as the head of the opposing Tories).

That setup works well for Lady Sarah whose husband runs the military and needs additional revenue via a proposed war tax increase the "Queen" desires. She's about to get her way when none other than her long-disgraced cousin (Emma Stone) shows up looking for work. She quickly realizes how the royal court game is played and manipulates and maneuvers her way into the Queen's good graces (and bed), thus creating a power struggle between the two young women.

While it clearly won't be for all audiences -- the "Masterpiece Theater" crowd might have to pick their jaws up off the floor due to the decidedly R-rated content -- the film is otherwise a blast to behold. The performances all around are terrific, the black comedy style screenplay is smartly written, the direction and cinematography are artfully and gorgeously splendid, and the rest of the tech credits -- production design, costumes, makeup, the score and so on -- are all Oscar-worthy.

I guess time will tell how the monarch loving crowd will respond to the decadently wicked spin on the usually more dignified portrayal of upper-crust royalty. But if you're looking for a loosening up of the sometimes far too stuffy costume drama trappings, "The Favourite" might end up being your favorite offering in that genre. I thoroughly enjoyed it and thus give the film a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 30, 2018 / Posted December 7, 2018

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