The Favourite (2018)

Starring: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult, Mark Gatiss, James Smith, Joe Alwyn

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Rating: 1 2 3 4 and a half

The Draughtman's Contract collides bloodily with Blackadder in this scabrous black comedy about Queen Anne and her warring courtiers.

Olivia Coleman has just won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of the fractious, fretful, capricious and beleaguered monarch, and deservedly so because she's bloody brilliant, like Miranda Richardson's Elizabeth 1st crossed with Miriam Margolyes' Spanish Infanta, laced with the pathos of Nigel Hawthorne's Mad King George. Yet holding their own admirably are Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as Sarah, Lady Marlborough and Abigail Hill, both competing with grit and vicious determination for the title role of Favourite.

Rachel Weisz as Lady Marlborough and Olivia Colman as Queen Anne in The Favourite

As the Queen flounders on the throne, torn between the opposing persuasions of the Whig Prime Minister Goldolphin (James Smith) and Tory leader of the opposition, Harley (a hugely tall Nicholas Hoult), the reins of power really lie in the hands of Lady Marlborough, whose husband, Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss), is currently waging war in France.

Ruling Her Majesty not so much with an iron hand in a velvet glove as an iron hand in a leather gauntlet, Sarah may be Anne's lifelong friend, protector and llover but she exploits her position ruthlessly to further her own and her husband's aims. Abigail, in comparison, seems sweet, gentle and innocent, a breath of fresh air breezing away Sarah's fierce demands and ultimatums. But appearances can be deceptive, and her pretty, pert and caring demeanour masks a will every bit as steely as her rival's, and, coupled with a deviousness and streak of cruelty the more forthright bully Sarah lacks, it will see her rise high.

Emma Stone as Abigail Hill and Olivia Colman as Queen Anne in The Favourite

The styling of this movie is simply gorgeous, taking what is surely one of the ugliest historical periods fashion-wise to new extremes, with towering wigs, teetering heels and lipstick, powder and paint for the gents and a lavish monochrome dazzle ship of stiff brocade, quilted silks, furry tassels and laser-cut leather lace for the ladies.

Fast-paced, wickedly funny, occasionally shocking (not the rabbit!) and revelling gleefully in its deliberate anachronisms (there's a dance sequence early on that would give John Travolta and Uma Thurman a run for their money), The Favourite is a dark, delicious delight. My first film at the pictures of the year and it's, er, my favourite...

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