I’ve never really been into period dramas. I find Downton Abbey about as interesting as a maths lecture at a paint-drying convention, and they’re always paced like a snail going across the Sahara.
But, The Favourite caught my eye as it looked as though it was trying something different, and I’ll say it achieves that at least. I was also drawn in my it’s leading cast, Olivia Coleman is one of my favourite actresses, as is Emma Stone, so it had my attention, but could it keep it?
It’s 1708, and Britain is at war with France, the Queen, Anne, is in increasingly poor health and is reliant on her ‘favourite’, Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough. Suddenly, Sarah’s cousin, a Fallen Lady by the name of Abigail Hill arrives and begins to work her way into the Queen’s inner circle.
That little synopsis is as about as much as I understood the plot, as it is a bit abstract in parts. A period drama fever dream is perhaps the best way I can describe it, if you can try and imagine Terry Gilliam remade Pride and Prejudice, but turned Mr Darcy into a sarcastic ballsy woman. If you can imagine such a thing, then that’s as close as I can describe The Favourite.
You know the kind of film that you know is good, accomplished and artistic and what not, but it fails to grab you? That’s where I was for most of The Favourite. The dialogue and acting drew me in the most, but the underlying surrealism makes some of the film difficult to grasp, I enjoyed the film when it was focusing on character moments, specifically with Queen Anne, played brilliantly by Olivia Coleman, she really stands out as a sympathetic, yet still powerful feeling.
Other characters loyalties are wavering, however, and as such can be hard to get behind. Abigail for instance, starts the film as a sympathetic figure, cast down the class system by the actions of her father, yet over the run-time, she evolves, into what would usually amount to an antagonist (really trying not to spoil) whereas, Sarah starts as a bossy controlling character and swaps places with Abigail to being a devoted, and loving aide. Done right, I’d usually say it was a clever subversion of character roles, but here it just feels a bit incongruous, it doesn’t feel like Abigail needs to do the things the does, there’s no reason why they couldn’t work together for a mutually beneficial end, but then again, maybe that was the thing in the 1700’s and being a bastard was just the way of life.
There were however, things I really liked about the experience, the acting, as I previously mentioned, was top-notch. I do believe Olivia Coleman received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance, and if so I thoroughly approve, as she was the film’s most watchable element. Stone and Rachel Weisz (who played Sarah) were also characteristically excellent, I didn’t like their characters as much, but they gave everything they had to what they had.
I also really liked the direction in the film. There are certain scenes which look as though they are filmed with a 360 degree camera, which works very nicely in this setting of lordly halls and distinguished gentleman, and as I previously mentioned, I really liked the dialogue, there were certain lines that gave me a good chuckle, far more than I was expecting of a period piece anyway.
All in all, The Favourite is like not being into fine art, but going to an art gallery, you appreciate the artistry, and might even find one or two things you liked there, but it ultimately isn’t for you. Perfectly acceptable as a piece of art, but it failed to thrill me, despite its acting and intelligent filming.