The pleasures of witnessing vicious, vile venom are endless. Sunshine is dismissable. We wish it upon our children and loved ones, but when dark moods strike us a ray of light is a cartoon fallacy we dare not acknowledge as a possible reality. We watch the news; we read the paper, and we scroll through Twitter. It’s hell out there and to survive it sometimes we must embrace wickedness.
The Favourite is the latest celebration of human oddity from director Yorgos Lanthimos, and it is a perverse parade of power plays and diabolical sniping centered around the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) in 18th Century England. Her Majesty is a sickly fright, wheeled through the cavernous halls of her estate by the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) who wrestles control of the kingdom by filling her ear with conspiracy. The sudden arrival of honorless cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) upends the Duchess’ influence and ignites a domestic war to rival the genuine bloodshed exploding hundreds of miles away between British and French troops.
The wretched behavior of the Royals has always been and always will hold a massive appeal for audiences who cannot possibly imagine what goes on behind those beefeater guarded doors of Buckingham Palace. As we struggle to pay the rent each month and grovel at the office, the notion that such tremendous wealth and power is actually poisonous is an irresistible morsel of schadenfreude.
Please, yes, fight amongst yourselves. Chew on every scrap of station, kill each other with the teeniest, tiniest cuts. In The Favourite, Lanthimos feeds us that base gratification with a great big spoon and finishes the meal by jamming it right down our throat. The rich are people too, and we’re all a bunch of monsters who deserve subjugation.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for ‘The Favourite.’
At the end of the film, Abigail has seemingly achieved the favor of Queen Anne and encouraged the banishment of The Duchess. She attained her place through poison, sexual favor, and the manipulation of the feeble male mind. With her goals accomplished her nights are filled with frivolity and too much damn wine. The Queen calls on the lady, and the creature that enters her bedroom appears like the shabby animal play-thing The Duchess once jokingly threatened her as. Regret hangs in the mind Anne.
The night passes, and in the morning the Queen writhes in her bed. Her limbs fail her, the body desperate to free its passenger from the miserable life of sycophants. Abigail sits in a chair by the window reading, and under her foot is one of Anne’s seventeen bunnies that represents her seventeen dead pregnancies. Abigail pushes her foot down, the bunny screams, and Anne flounders, lumbers, and falls out of bed.
Abigail rushes to Anne’s side, and the Queen barks terror in her direction. She demands that Abigail massage her aching leg, and to maintain her balance, she grapples with her servant’s head. Lanthimos interlays the portraits of Anne and Abigail with a writing field of bunnies. The screen is enveloped by that pasture of metaphorical dead children, and they wriggle to Johnnie Burn’s score that pulsates to a rhythmic hum until the film cuts to credits and Elton John’s “Skyline Pigeon” kicks on. “Turn me loose from your hands/let me fly to distant lands…”
The Favourite would be a riot if not for those dang bunnies. Experiencing such despicable human scrabbling is good for a giggle until you contemplate the string of stillborn babies that were pumped out of Anne in a race for the next heir. You cannot possibly condemn her behavior, or deny her insanity as a gift. The desire of others to curry her favor is ultimately the only true power she holds, and her knuckles around Abigail’s hair brings no pleasure or chuckle from the crowd.
Misery for the Royal kind is inescapable; it only spreads to others. Although not depicted in the film, Queen Anne died a month after suffering a severe stroke that rendered her speechless. The Favourite leads us right up to her final moments on earth, and we can only imagine the endless wave of treacherous brown nosing that will be perpetrated on her successor. Lanthimos leaves his audience dejected, having experienced a fierce battle for dominance on a crumbling dungheap.
Cut off that final scene and what’s left is a deeply satisfying dark comedy of bottomfeeders. As is, The Favourite continues to gorge our gullets with the monarchy but finishes with an empathetic slap for all our selfish rubbernecking. The queen is dead long live the queen.