At the outset of director Yorgos Lanthimos’ gorgeous, witty, bawdy, bruising, depressing, and disheartening romp amid the English royals, Emma Stone — playing Abigail, a clever girl from a fallen family — faces an unpleasant choice: either tolerate the wretched sexual attentions of a man or be cast out into the muck. She opts for the latter, and so arrives at the palace of Queen Anne (played with ruined majesty by Olivia Colman) to beg employment from her cousin Lady Sarah (a fearsome Rachel Weisz) stinking without but with her dignity intact. Once inside, her great goal is to scrub from herself every putrid particle of her impoverished past, and she isn’t particularly particular about how she manages it, even if it means biting the well manicured hand that fed her. Abigail is a woman, you see, doomed by the unfeeling dictates of a man’s world to either peddle her ass in the street (a crude expression, but one put considerably more crudely in the film, which delights in highborn vulgarity almost as much as it delights in the bulgy warp of fisheye lenses) or manipulate it into an advantageous marital match. There are no heroes in The Favourite; there are only sad creatures driven by their various needs. There is, however, a morbid morality to the proceedings, one in which decadence is its own punishment, and the surest sign of keeping your dignity intact is to get as far away from the levers of power as possible. It turns out there are worse things than smelling like the sewer. (2018) — Matthew Lickona
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