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  Favourite, The Use It Or Lose It
Year: 2018
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, James Smith, Mark Gatiss, Jenny Rainsford, Lily-Rose Stevens, Jennifer White, Edward Aczel, Carolyn Saint-Pé, Liam Fleming, Timothy Innes, Basil Eidenbenz, James Melville, Declan Wyer
Genre: HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is the very early eighteenth century, and England is at war with France in a conflict that some politicians wish to end as soon as possible, but others want to prolong since they believe they have the upper hand and will be able to crush their enemy completely with a further battle, never mind suing for peace. It is really up to what Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) decides, but she is more prey to the whims of her closest advisor, Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), who tends to make up Anne's mind for her, especially as the monarch's health is beginning to wane. However, recently arrived in the servants' quarters is Abigail (Emma Stone), who has fallen on hard times she will not put up with...

The pattern of Oscar winners of the twenty-first century continued where it appeared the Academy were far more keen on certain films than the general audiences who, having heard about how great these films were, queued up to see them and were more often than not disappointed. Was there such a gulf between the popular taste and the cognoscenti's preferences? It would seem so, and that gulf was only broadening, but in truth director Yorgos Lanthimos had toned down his usual cruel excesses for this effort, possibly because this was not one of his scripts he had authored or co-authored. It was recognisable as part of his canon, but it was more accessible than he had previously been.

Those who saw The Favourite and detested it would be bemused at such a pronouncement, to say the least, but aside from a final scene that moved into the oblique and symbolic, unlike Lanthimos' other works there was no mystery about why the characters behaved the way they did, there was no arch enigma about any of this. The reason for that was that while they had adult desires, they all acted like petulant children, and even Abigail who may be the smartest person in the story falls victim to the manipulations of a spoilt little girl when she gets her first taste of power. Power was where it was at for the lot of them, starting with the pettiness of a scullery maid punishing the newcomer with bullying.

But everyone here, no matter what their station in life, did what they could to boost their ego by picking on those lower down the social scale, the difference with Abigail being that she was smart enough to turn the tables when she could. Although marketed as a comedy, that may not have been a good idea as audiences were anticipating a bawdy romp and while there was a sexual angle, there was very little fun about how this lot deported themselves. All three lead actresses vomited at some point, for different reasons, but there was a sense that we were looking down on them from a great height to judge them in their foibles which far outweighed their better points as they all schemed incessantly against one another, just as they would after the end credits rolled, and their descendants would too.

The usual Lanthimos dim view of humanity was present, where essentially everyone has selfish motives for behaving the way the do, and any kindness is marked by the ties to bolstering the status of the person supposedly being kind. Queen Anne we would diagnose with depression, had psychiatry been around back then, yet oddly this only makes her sympathetic so far, as her decisions still see her at her worst. Lady Sarah we initially approach as pulling the strings, and the fact she is making the war go on and on at the cost of many lives (and no small amount of money) is enough to damn her in the view of the picture, yet when she is met with her downfall, we do not take much satisfaction for it, as we, again, are in the position of clearly understanding that she is a victim as well as an aggressor. All very well, but they were a difficult lot to spend two hours with, it was rather like being at a nursery where the badly behaved kids had swapped places with their parents, initially novel but wearing after a short while; it certainly wasn't very funny, though the performances were consistently excellent. It was largely the cast (costumed marvellously) who kept you watching.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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