The Favorite

07 Dec

The Favorite—directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Historical Biodrama. 119 minutes Color 2018.
The Story: An All About Eve story in which Eve ends up, as usual, as a snake in the grass.
Males are born innocent. Females—never.

Nothing could be plainer in what assails and jades our eyes in The Favorite. Shot at Hatfield House standing in for Hampton Court, we stalk down looming corridors in which 18th Century courtiers all wear the same color, black, white, and midnight blue—a masterful trick to focus our attention not on the wittily and lavishly embellished wigs and gauds of the day, but rather on the faces of the three women raving inwardly and outwardly for dominance in that day.

Queen Anne Stuart, protestant daughter of Catholic King James II, was in real life a wise and competent monarch. She attended more cabinet meetings than any British monarch before or since. She succeeded the reign of her sister and brother-in-law, William and Mary of Orange. But she also suffered the tyranny of her close friendship with Sarah Churchill, the loss of 17 children, one a son and heir of 11, and chronic illness which exhausted her.

What this film gives of Queen Anne is Sarah Churchill, exhaustion, and bunny rabbits as surrogate children—to occupy a woman with a lot of time on her hands and absolute power. What would anyone possibly want from this collapsed person?

The immense popularity of Sarah Churchill’s husband the Duke of Marlborough may have been the force behind Sarah’s Churchill’s political ambition for his influence and the money it could produce. But no.

We never learn. And we do not need to. What Rachel Weisz gives us is unmotivated power-playing, as from an inherent greed for it. Put someone like Sarah Churchill next to someone like Queen Anne and you will bring out ferocity in the Duchess and capitulation in the queen. An addiction.

Thrust into this unhealthy pairing, a third woman finds herself made use of by both women. And takes over. Why? What drives her?

All we see, in her case, is a need for power as a tool for survival. But why then is she not contented by survival when the Queen marries her to a baron? Why does she have to go further? Why does she have to make an enemy of Sarah Churchill?

Not because of a cause. But because that’s the way she is.

We don’t know her etiology. What we see is the mania of her obsession, her addiction to more. More than that we do not see and do not need to see.

Because what we see is all that we have to see, which is the three women in operation in the present tense. Now. At the time. Then. With no exposition, back-story, past, the film is executed as spectacle from beginning to end.

And therefore a wonderful vehicle for all three actors. Emma Stone as the interloper is perfectly cast and I can’t imagine she will ever have a more suitable part. Starting from her desire to care for the Queen, Emma Stone without one obvious move, transforms her character from Florence Nightingale into Nurse Ratched.

Emma Stone is an actor whom you never know the truth of. Who can pin her down? Certainly not Ryan Gosling in La La Land or Joe Alwyn who plays the fellow who wants to marry The Favorite. Her huge wide-spaced blue eyes always tell the truth that she is not telling the truth. She is a cold actress—nonetheless, she is that rare cold actress you want to root for.

Olivia Colman as the queen leaves out nothing that will disgust us. Everything in the story depends upon what this actress can bring to a character who rules the Great Britain as a baby. An ugly baby. A baby squalid with disease and rudeness and self-indulgence and dependency and self-pity. Out of this messy character arises the only code of love in all the claims made for it in the picture by all the characters in it—a love for helpless creatures.

Don’t hold back from this degree of ruthlessness. Warm yourself by standing on its glacier. Learn. Admit. And smile.

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