Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives at the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and hopes to take on a job and restore her name by getting in with the monarch's graces by any means necessary. Standing in her way is the queen's confidant and Abigail's cousin, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), who has her own designs on the queen.

 

The opening scene of 'The Favourite' sees Emma Stone's character on her way to the exquisite castle to meet Olivia Colman's Queen Anne. She's dressed in period-specific costume, speaks brightly and sweetly, and cheerful orchestral music plays. In a few seconds, she's flung out of the carriage and into a pile of feces after she confronts a man for masturbating in front of her. The mixture going in that one scene is a distillation of everything in 'The Favourite'.

You've got beautiful costumes, delightful scenery, a charming cast crossed with brashly base desires being acted out, bawdy humour and fiendish people doing whatever they can to get ahead. For all of the pomp, ceremony and refined language of 'The Favourite', it's acutely aware that people are awful no matter a time period's perceived piety or their standing in the higher echelons of society. Indeed, they're more likely to be far worse.

Olivia Colman's comedic talents and timing make her the perfect choice to play the mercurial Queen Anne. When we first meet her, she's shown as a grown child who flails about her gigantic rooms and demands attention whenever she can get it. As the story progresses, her true nature unfolds and Colman's performance rises to meet it. There's one scene, where cinematographer Robbie Ryan clamps the camera right on her face, that tells you everything there is to know about her character and Colman's talents. That she is able to do this with such minute movements and economy is indicative of an incredible talent that deserves to be recognised come awards season.

Rachel Weisz, meanwhile, plays Lady Sarah with a calculated ferocity that makes her more terrifying than any male villain you can think of. In fact, Weisz's character so clearly dominates everyone around her - male or female - that it's kind of enthralling to see her do it. Likewise, when Emma Stone tries to battle against her, the clashes become more devious and vicious with each meeting. Stone's character is equally ferocious, and as she plainly admits, "is capable of much unpleasantness," but does so with such brazenness that it's hilarious.

There's never a dull moment in 'The Favourite', and Yorgos Lanthimos' way of directing extremely mannered performances from his cast feels alien in other movies, but feels perfectly at place her. Where in 'The Killing Of A Sacred Deer', it made it unsettling, here it feels strangely natural. That doesn't mean that movie isn't disturbing - quite the opposite, in fact. The casual violence is matched only by the implied violence of words and whispers, and the way in which each character is so resolutely terrible is fascinating. There isn't one redeeming feature about any of them, but while it's hard to connect with them on an emotional level, it's never not entertaining to see how they hope to pull it all off.

If there's a complaint to be made about 'The Favourite', it's just that - that each and every character is not only irredeemable, but resolutely so. They're all terrible people, so why should any of it matter? Why would you want to see any of them succeed? Be that as it may, you can't help but be carried along towards the inevitable and crushingly cynical ending.

Sharp and funny, 'The Favourite' is a void-black comedy with a trio of award-ready performances.