Adam_Davie’s review published on Letterboxd:
Yorgos Lanthimos' venture into the period drama with The Favourite has produced a film that shakes the foundation of the genre and toys with the gender stereotypes that many female characters are forced into during these types of films. I don't know if The Favourite is my favorite film of the year just yet, but it's pretty damn close.
Abigail and Sarah's duel for Queen Anne's affections, and by proxy, her powers over the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, are the bedrock of this film and it was wonderful watching the two scheme and politic their way up the social and diplomatic ranks. At the films beginning, Sarah / Lady Malborough's (Rachel Weisz) claws have already been sunk deep (figuratively) into the flesh of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) who, in her feeble and indecisive state, is easy prey for Sarah. She is essentially the Dick Cheney of Queen Annes kingdom. Although Anne is well aware of what's taking place under her rule, Sarah typically has the final say, with her decisions being continually checked and balanced by Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult) and other members of parliament. Their spats are nothing out of the ordinary and most films would've settled for this male/female power struggle as it's central conflict, but thankfully Lanthimos and screenwriter Deborah Davis didn't stop there.
Abigail's (Emma Stone) entry into the fold really sets this film on an entirely different course. The films poster is impressive in the way that it shares so much, yet reveals so little about the power struggle and Abigail's role within it, but once you see the film, it makes so much sense. Stone's portrayal of Abigail as submissive and demure is quickly shed once she becomes entangled with Sarah and other members of Queen Annes court. Just like Sarah, she's charming, she's crafty and she's savage. A few good deeds early on help her curry favor with Anne, which brings her closer to Sarah, and from there, the film becomes a game of one-upmanship (womanship?) between the two with Queen Anne subtlety encouraging the divisiveness as she basks in the attention being thrown her way.
"Love has it's limits," Sarah tells Queen Anne early on in the film. "Well it shouldn't," replies Anne. I was struck by these words early on in the film and they stuck with me until the end. This balance of deeds done in the name of love vs. deeds done in the name of the power grab is what gives this film it's bite. Theres far more animus going around than love though. This movie, beneath its austere surface and jocular underbelly, is politics in it's truest form. In my opinion, no one in this film cares about each other: the end game is always more power for the victor. What sets each character apart is how they obtain it and the limits they place on themselves in the process. Harley understands this. Sarah understands this. Queen Anne understands this. Abigail does not. As the film concludes, each character is better off in some respects and worse off in others. But within the scope of the film and it's setting, none are better off than Abigail, who is a true rags to riches success. She's secured a firm role as the Queens favorite, but that favored status may not last. I won't give any more details away but I'll just say that sometimes it's better to concede on certain issues, while pressing forward on others. Bipartisanship can be a good thing sometimes. Also, never let your proximity to the monarchy lead you to believe that you are the monarchy. There's always someone waiting to put you back in your place, should you choose to step out of line.