'The Favourite' is self-satisfyingly smart-alecky

The film is about Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), the last of the Stuart monarchs, and the two women (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) who are vying for her favors.

Yorgos Lanthimos/Fox Searchlight Films/AP
Rachel Weisz and Olivia Coleman (r.) star in 'The Favourite.'

The Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos ("Dogtooth," "The Lobster"), has a cultish reputation that has always seemed inflated to me. His new film, "The Favourite," is a continuation of what he does best and worst: It’s nasty and knowing but way too self-satisfyingly smart-alecky for its own good.

Set in early 18th-century England, it’s about Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), the last of the Stuart monarchs, and the two women – her close friend, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), and Sarah’s commoner cousin, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) – who are vying for her favors, sexual and otherwise, in Kensington Palace. It’s a vicious power triangle and the stage is set for acidulous goings-on, but the script, by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, is coy, arch, and overloaded with zingers that often miss their mark.

The actresses are so expert, especially Colman, with her grievous, hardbitten woe, that you may not care, but if one is to mock this sort of historical extravaganza, I much prefer the nutbrain Monty Python approach to all this deep-dish folderol. Fiona Crombie’s production design and Sandy Powell’s costumes are far more sumptuous than this movie deserves – it’s almost as good to look at as “Barry Lyndon” and not half as boring – but after a while, even the tapestries and candelit tableaux wear out their welcome. Grade: C+ (Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity and language.) 

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