Rachel Weisz is no stranger to period pieces. She’s appeared in several over just the last few years, including the superb My Cousin Rachel. Yet it’s fair to say that she’s never approached one quite like Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. A black-hearted comedy as fit for a gallows platform as a throne room, The Favourite reimagines the early 18th century court of Queen Anne as a political battlefield between three women vying for power, including Rachel Weisz’s Lady Sarah Churchill.
“It’s unlike any other period piece,” Weisz says during our interview. “This isn’t a dusty museum piece; it’s alive, it’s raw, it’s visceral, and it’s quite rude.” Among the other adjectives Weisz uses, she insists it’s even “bitchy.” Deliciously so too.
Working from a screenplay by Tony McNamara that treats dialogue like arrows dipped in acidic wit, the film opens with Weisz’s Lady Sarah essentially ruling England by being the righthand-woman of Olivia Colman’s often distracted and petulant Queen. Yet Weisz insists that Lady Sarah’s relationship with the Queen was true, at least at first, although the ostensible favorite has grown complacent as of late.
“They were childhood friends and they’ve been best friends since before they were famous,” Weisz says. “But Sarah, my character, loves England and loves the Queen. But the Queen is England, and England is the Queen. So it’s a handy person to love.” Still, Weisz insists that sense of empathy and compassion predated any desire for position or ambition.
Adds Weisz, “The love was first, I think.”
Which makes it all the bitterer when Emma Stone’s Abigail quickly rises from her role as a maid to being a veritable rival for the Queen’s affection and attention. In a separate interview, Stone teases that her character is “no Joan of Arc” and does some pretty iredeemable things to Sarah. Still, Weisz stops short of seeing her character as a victim or wronged protagonist, a la Bette Davis in All About Eve.
“There really isn’t a hero, because there isn’t a good girl or a bad girl, they’re all everything,” Weisz says with consideration. “They’re all trying to survive for different reasons. So I would say none of them are totally good or totally evil. It has a lot to do with the capriciousness of power. The Queen can be quite capricious and toddler like and throw out her toys and make trouble for her country, but yeah the characters are vulnerable and cruel and sadistic, and manipulative and bitchy, and also very needy.”
This article was originally published on Nov. 21, 2018.