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The Favourite

Year: 2018
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer: Deborah Davis/Tony McNamara
Cast: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult

As high quality as Yorgos Lanthimos' films always are, I've never been the biggest fan of his work. His images are always as precise as they are gorgeous, but even when he spins up an interesting story, he seems to get a spiteful sort of satisfaction in ending it before there's any sort of resolution.

That's even the case in his films that have stronger stories than others, like this one. In fact he pushes it as far as he can here, the final scene seeming to be setting up the denouement of the whole thing before you go down a weird rabbit hole before the film ends.

But at least it all goes off the rails in the last 30 seconds rather than the entire last act like other of his films do, which means you can enjoy the rest of it unhindered. And seeing three seriously good female talents crash and spark off each other is certainly a delight. The undercurrent of seething jealousy is as untamed as the locales and set dressing on the surface are genteel.

Queen Anne (Victoria Colman, as game for it as you've ever seen any actress in her willingness to be shown in the most unflattering of lights) is ageing, tired, unsure of herself and beset by political enemies on all sides.

War with France is reaching a dangerous crescendo and her hangers on all show duplicitous respect even while they know her power is withering, awaiting their chance to pounce.

Her sole ally is Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), who acts as her political advisor and conscience, guiding her in matters of state and giving her plenty of tough love (after the Queen goes for something more striking in her make-up for a forthcoming summit, Sarah tells her in clipped tones to go back to her rooms because she looks 'like a badger').

Later we also realise Lady Sarah and Anne are lovers, but however historically accurate it was it doesn't really add anything – their relationship is already delightfully complicated and watchable.

Presently a cat arrives amongst the pigeons in the form of Abigail (Emma Stone), a cousin of Sarah's who's from a disgraced and poor family and who enters the palace to work as a maid.

It's not clear from the outset whether the sweet-seeming Abigail has a long term plan to restore her previous standing by deposing Sarah and putting herself in the Queen's good graces, but when she gets an opportunity – by applying her knowledge of native cures by easing Anne's gout pain with a natural poultice – the Queen takes a shine to her, much to the jealous Sarah's suspicions.

Before long, the pair are locked in a battle of wills to be, as the title suggests, the Queen's favoured consort. The premise makes it sounds a bit like a melodramatic soap opera, but the acting, script and direction are all so top notch it's like watching an MMA fight between two skilled kung fu masters.

Using whatever tools or weapons they have at their disposal – from the slimy leader of the opposition, Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult) and subterfuge to scandalous past love letters and even poisoning – both women try to take advantage of the Queen's diminished faculties to assure their future in the court.

Stone has a bit more dimension because you spend a little longer trying to work out where she's coming from, but Weisz as Lady Sarah is a fantastic character because she's a stinging nettle – poised, upright and polished, but with every step and word a poisonous barb weighted with barley-concealed malice.

Not that either of them upstage Colman as Queen Anne. Most of the time she plays a lost, buffoonish sort of woman, but every now and then she lets slip how cunning she is, knowing exactly what's going on, understanding every punch thrown in the fight over her and possibly even enjoying it all.

More enjoyable than most Lanthimos movies simply because he only lets you down in the final couple of frames – everything that comes before that is rock solid.

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