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Film reviews: The Favourite

Bed-hopping: Rachel
Weisz and Olivia
Colman play lovers

THE BIG RELEASE

The Favourite

(15) ★★★★★

THE ‘favourite’ indeed — by name and by nature. With five Golden Globe nominations, plus 47 other wins and counting lining its coffers, it looks like this bonkers period sex farce is romping all the way to the Oscars.

It’s the early 18th century. Somewhere, off screen, England is at war with the French. But our fish-eye lens is focused on the bubble of court life. Here a stout and gouty, yet frail, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) squats on the throne, while her bosom buddy/secret lover Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) basically runs things.

Enter new servant Abigail (Emma Stone), Lady Sarah’s impoverished cousin who is determined to claw her way back into the aristocracy — a young Becky Sharp, for those who know their Vanity Fair. She starts by climbing into the queen’s bed.

Colman totally reigns in a role that won her best actress at Venice. Her Queen Anne is a grotesque comic tyrant, mercurially irritable and constantly stuffing her face with cake. Yet Colman finds the heart-breakingly vulnerable creature within that portly carapace — a lonely woman whose 17 miscarriages seem to live on in the bunny rabbits she lets hop around her bed chamber. The Favourite satisfies so fully, however, by being a three-hander. Weisz and Stone are both equally magnificent — and equally laden with award nominations.

Sandy Powell’s opulent costumes and the authentically regal production design are irresistibly rich, while the script is deliriously witty, constantly catching you out with offbeat lines such as ‘You look like a badger’ or ‘I am capable of much unpleasantness’ or ‘I have sent for lobsters. I thought we could race them — then eat them.’

Though originally penned by Deborah Davis it has all the trademarks of its Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth and The Lobster). His unique eye for the absurd is dedicated to satirising the savagery and silliness of the English court. It is a film about sex, power and manipulation, but also, being Lanthimos, how the brittle artifice of human civilisation fails to conceal our bestial natures. This is The Crown like you’ve never seen it before.

The verdict

An awards-laden period romp like no other. Right raunchy royal fun.

Welcome To Marwen

(12A) ★★✩✩✩

MENTAL illness gets a slick, Polar Express-style makeover in this unlikely project from director Robert Zemeckis (Back To The Future). Taking inspiration from 2010 documentary Marwencol, it tells the true story of outsider artist Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) who was beaten nearly to death in a bar in 2000 for wearing women’s stilettos.

Amnesiac and unable to draw, the film sees Hogancamp channel his PTSD into constructing a miniature World War II village called Marwen in his backyard. He populates it with evil Nazis and kindly Barbie-style dolls based on women from his life (Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger and Janelle Monae), as well as an avatar of himself, a pilot action doll called Hogie, who also wears high heels.

Echoing the fractured state of Hogancamp’s mind, the movie is split between live-action reality and the animated fantasy adventures of Marwen, which Zemeckis creates using motion-capture — picture ’Allo ’Allo! meets Toy Story.

It’s a fascinating, multi-dimensional true story whose compelling complexities get frustratingly smoothed out in lines as clean and uncomplicated as those of Hogancamp’s neutered, fem-doll companions. Engaging on the eye but, ultimately, something of a misfire.

Zemeckis is set to find the world a a more complicated place since the days of Forrest Gump.

Life Itself

(15) ★✩✩✩✩

LEFTOVER turkey anyone? Barely two days into the new year and we’ve already got a hot contender for the worst film of 2019. I’ve not seen writer/director Dan Fogelman’s TV series This Is Us but it surely can’t be worse than Life Itself, which whisks you away on an excruciatingly smug package tour around the scriptwriter’s own belly button.

The execrable Life Itself has an interlocking Crash-style narrative, which sees the life (and death) of Oscar Isaac’s creepily unsympathetic and suicidal hero (and father to Olivia Wilde’s growing bump) collide with Elizabeth Debicki’s ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’, Antonio Banderas’s olive mogul (who appears in the film’s almost successful sequence), Olivia Cooke’s punk teen and Laia Costa’s cute waitress in a series of cosmically unlikely events.

Half an hour in (if you’re generous) and you’ll realise you don’t give a hoot about any of them. Avoid.

MORE NEW RELEASES

The 12th Man (15)

Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars in yet another also-out-now-on-download release. Based on the legend of Jan Baalsrud, it’s a World War II thriller set north of the Arctic Circle where 12 Norwegian resistance fighters are betrayed while fighting the Nazis. Of them, 11 are tortured and killed but the 12th escapes across the freezing snow, pursued by an SS Officer (Rhys Meyers, who learnt German for the role).

RBG (PG)

Eighty-five-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (aka The Notorious RBG) is a household name in the US, where she pioneered gender equality legislation in the 1970s. This stirring ‘you go girl!’ doc is a chance for us Brits to get up to speed ahead of upcoming biopic On The Basis Of Sex, starring Felicity Jones, out on February 8.

An Impossible Love (15)

Diligent adaptation of Christine Angot’s confessional book. At the end of the 1950s in rural France, Rachel (Virginie Efira) falls for Philippe (Niels Schneider) and their brief affair results in a daughter. Director Catherine Corsini explores the complexities of that relationship as it unfolds over the next 50 years (or 135 minutes in real time).