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Three great performances rule “The Favourite”

Updated: Apr 24


An upset last month when Olivia Colman as Queen Anne won the Best Actress Academy Award over the favorite Glenn Close for "The Wife."

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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital copy; 2018, R for strong sexual content, nudity, and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime (4K), Apple TV (4K), Fandango (4K), YouTube (4K)

BEST EXTRA: Multi-part making-of documentary

THE OSCARS have come and gone, and “The Favourite,” Yorgos Lanthimos’ (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” “The Lobster”) period dramedy, earned ten (count ‘em) nominations – including for Best Picture – yielding a Best Actress for Olivia Colman.

Just as last year’s “Mary, Queen of Scots” took modern liberties with history in its depiction of Mary, including an encounter between her and Elizabeth I that never happened, “The Favourite” adds plenty of fabrication and anachronism to known fact. But where “Mary” felt forced and melodramatic, “The Favourite” provides some of the most deliciously funny and surprising entertainment of the year, not least for the brilliant performances Lanthimos got from its three protagonists.

The film is set during the rule of Queen Anne of Britain (Colman), which lasted from 1702 until 1714, and the relationships Anne had with Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and Sarah’s cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone). At the time Abigail arrives on the scene, down on her luck and desperate for work, the queen and Sarah are deeply entrenched in a friendship that dates back to their childhoods. Their bond manifests itself in an official capacity, in which Sarah appears to be the force behind the throne.

Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) on her way to seek a post at the palace.

Illuminated by available light from the outdoors, Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), talks to the queen.

Abigail applies a natural remedy to the queen's afflicted leg.

Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult), leader of the opposition party waits for an audience with the queen, alongside another court member and his pet duck.

Anne is afflicted by severe gout and extreme neurosis, perhaps partly due to having endured 18 pregnancies, of which eight were miscarriages, five stillborn, with the others dying in childhood. She’s rather fragile to say the least. Anne and Sarah’s relationship, at least in the film version, is also a frankly sexual one. Abigail soon sizes up the situation and begins doing everything she can to ingratiate herself with Anne – and become her favorite – which creates, by turns, a hilarious and nefarious love triangle.

One reason “The Favourite’s” anachronisms – such as break-dancing at a palace ball, and occasional modern language couched in formal English – works so well, is its biting deadpan humor, something “Mary Queen of Scots” lacked. Even Lanthimos’ use of wry chapter heading cards printed in the classy font of the film’s titles lets viewers know “The Favourite” is a theatrical entertainment, with a few bits of history tossed in.

There is a sharp divide among the audience. Most critics and some viewers loved it, calling “The Favourite” a dark satire. Others didn’t like the extreme behaviors, language, and lack of historical accuracy.

Abigail proves she's a good shot during her shooting lessons with Sarah Churchill.

The queen and Harley speak, lit only by the glow of candlelight.

The Duchess of Marlborough attends to official business with the ongoing War of the Spanish Succession, as Harley and Abigail wait nearby.

Harley, at court, plotting with fellow opposition party members.


The 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment 4K Ultra HD (streaming only) and Blu-ray transfers look absolutely splendid. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan (nominated for an Oscar) shot the movie on the Super 35 film format (1.85:1 aspect ratio) but sadly mastered in 2K missing an extra level of clarity. Lanthimos’ off-beat approach to framing and angles are emphasized by the use of a super wide-angle lens and, occasionally, a fisheye.

Strangely there’s no HDR toning, but colors are still beautifully saturated. Detail is extensive even in natural and candlelight with plenty of natural film grain, as evidenced in the extravagant makeup, costumes, lavish period sets, and painterly outdoor scenes. Ryan says Lanthimos composes scenes “like music … always thinking of new ways to cover something.”


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is also excellent, with effects and its long list of classical tracks including concertos by Handel and Vivaldi, and additional pieces from Bach, Purcell, Schubert, and even Elton John with “Skyline Pigeon.” The wonderful dialogue, by screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara is always crisp and clear.


Include a few deleted clips, complete with those cool title cards, and a multi-part making-of documentary, “‘The Favourite’: Unstitching the Costume Drama.” In it, Lanthimos says, “When you make a period film, it’s always interesting to see how it relates to our time … because things haven’t really changed.” He admits to taking a lot of liberties, having been “inspired by real people and parts of history, but we reimagined everything.”

Adds McNamara, “We wanted to tell the story of these three women … and history came along for the ride. Where it was useful to us, it stayed; where it wasn’t, we sort of let it go.” McNamara notes that he never liked period movies, so he asked himself, “How would it have to be for me to like it?” Lanthimos says he “tried to make all three women very complex,” with shifting and changing qualities.

Baron Masham (Joe Alwyn) tries to seduce Abigail.

Abigail visits the queen in her bedchamber, to comfort her, lit only by candlelight.

Abigail attends to the queen as she soaks in her therapeutic mudbath.

Masham and Abigail now have a cordial relationship.

Emma Stone said she loved that all the women are “flawed and hilarious – but complicated. What life is really like.” She loved the way Abigail “unfolds.” Colman, discussing her character, says, “Anne was bonkers, sad … she doesn’t really feel like the queen.” She adds that she “loved being cantankerous … slapping pageboys!” Colman also notes that Anne “doesn’t realize that Lady Marlborough is the true love of her life.” Colman praises Stone’s British accent: “It’s so good, I forgot she’s American.” Lanthimos says he wanted the men in the film to be “peripheral characters, secondary … led by women and women’s decisions.” He adds that at that time in history, the men wore makeup and wigs and elaborate clothes, looking much more flamboyant than the women.

Rachel Weisz recalls the shoot as “unlike any other filmmaking process” she’d ever experienced. “You can’t prepare for (Lanthimos) … his mind is extraordinary.” She adds, there was never any discussion of motivation with the director, which translated into “a lot of freedom” for the actors. Stone calls Lanthimos “kind, with original ideas; you want to be able to submit to them.” James Smith, the actor who plays the Earl of Godolphin, notes that Lanthimos “wanted to get something more out of everybody, something they don’t know they can do.”

— Peggy Earle

The queen strolls in her garden with Harley.

Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough, and Queen Anne.

Abigail, now a member of court, after her marriage to Baron Masham.





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