The Favourite: ****
I have no ambition.
I started my first full-time job with health insurance in 2001. For eighteen straight years, I have had the exact same career goal: keep my job.
Over the years, co-workers have asked me – in confusion – why I don’t want more. Those same co-workers tend to get disappointed and frustrated and leave the company.
Other ambitious people in my office got everything they wanted but found that promotions and power didn’t make them any happier.
Emma Stone stars as Abigail: the most ambitious person at the court of Queen Anne of England.
Abigail has noble blood and a proper education. But her family fell on hard times. By the time we meet her in 1708, Abigail is fortunate just to land a job as a palace maid.
When she discovers that Queen Anne is having a secret affair with Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), Abigail sees a golden opportunity.
While “The Favourite” is a bit too weird, dark, and artsy to be Best Picture, all three leading ladies have a solid chance of winning Oscars for their performances.
Olivia Colman sheds all vanity to play a truly disgusting version of Queen Anne. She is gluttonous, gout-ridden, and self-loathing. When she’s depressed, she has epic tantrums. And yet, Anne isn’t a royal joke; she’s a real middle-aged woman with a ton of responsibility and a sincere commitment to ruling well.
Rachel Weisz’s Sarah is the mean girl of the palace. She always has a clever comeback or a vicious putdown. The duchess has bullied herself to the top, becoming the Queen’s most influential advisor.
But Sarah’s downfall is her humanity and restraint. From Sarah, we learn that an ambitious person should smile meekly at her enemies and then destroy them without mercy. The worst thing to do is to make loud threats that you don’t have the stomach to follow through on.
Abigail never makes that mistake. I didn’t think that Emma Stone could act and she proved me wrong in a big way. Stone uses her sweet-girl image to make Abigail’s viciousness feel even more shocking.
The ending to “The Favourite” is powerful and perfect. Abigail – the meek little scullery maid who we have been rooting for the entire movie – has achieved every one of her lofty ambitions. And success has made her desperately, desperately miserable.