But How Gay is ‘The Favourite’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is The Favourite? Imagine if you took All About Eve, the 1950 classic about the rivalry between a veteran actress and a scheming ingenue, set it in the 18th century at Queen Anne’s royal court, and amped up the insanity. That is Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, a dark comedy written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara that has quickly become my favorite movie of the year.

Anne’s titular favo(u)rite is Sarah, the duchess of Marlborough. They share a special relationship, including nicknames for each other. It’s clearly what keeps the long-suffering Anne going, after 17 miscarriages and the loss of her husband. Sarah uses this to her advantage, ramming her pro-Whig political agenda through — much to the dismay of lead Tory party member Harley. But a new wrinkle comes in the form of Abigail, a former lady who has fallen far down the ranks of society. She seeks employment with Sarah, her cousin, and quickly curries favor with the queen. What follows is a battle to keep that favor, one that grows in both hilarity and intensity over the rest of the film’s running time.

Who’s in it? Olivia Colman, our future Queen Elizabeth on The Crown, plays Queen Anne here. Colman is receiving the lion’s share of praise for the film so far, and for good reason. She’s giving everything she has to Anne, making her both a sympathetic figure and a cartoonish one. Every choice is right. It’s a marvel of a performance to behold.

That said, I honestly think the hefty praise for Colman is doing a disservice to the rest of the cast, who are uniformly excellent. Emma Stone is outrageous as Abigail, with a scene involving a sexual act that is iconic almost entirely because of her performance. Rachel Weisz is a bitchy delight as Sarah, though I’ll admit her character is given fewer layers than her costars’. The MVP for me, however, is Nicholas Hoult as Harley. He’s a delicious creation, all furor and fervor in a beautiful package. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen Hoult do before, and he absolutely should be in the awards conversation for this.

Why should I see it? Because it’s the best movie of the year. At least, in my opinion it is! It’s just fantastic — and fun! We need more fun prestige movies. Go see The Favourite!

But how gay is it? Oh my god, so gay. Gayer than a bunch of twinks on Fire Island. Gayer than a coterie of lesbians at the Dinah. Gayer than fucking Palm Springs. Some of that is content, yes; Abigail and Sarah are not just competing for Anne with personal favors, but also deeply intimate ones. Even gayer, however, are the movie’s aesthetic and language. Hoult’s Harley is a bitchy queen with plenty of reads for all his female rivals, and the mascara to match. He obsesses over appearance and tells one of his party members that his men must be “pretty.”

Meanwhile, Abigail and Sarah brutally drag each other with a viciousness only otherwise found at a drag bar on a Friday night. Reader, I was expecting this movie to be fun; I had no idea it would be, right next to Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the gayest movie of the year.

This isn’t in my city yet! Why are you reviewing it now? Sadly, we’re reaching that time of year when a lot of movies come out on expanding release schedules. So this weekend, The Favourite is only out in Los Angeles and New York. But over the next two weekends, the movie will release in an additional 19 cities. Keep an eye out; as the season progresses, it’ll likely make its way to even more.

What are this movie’s Oscar prospects? So here’s the thing: Right now, Oscar prognosticators think The Favourite is going to do really well with the Academy. I think that’s insane. This movie is a dark, dark comedy, and an incredibly gay one. I see it getting in Best Original Screenplay (which I think it will win), and Colman getting in Best Actress, even though the Anne role is clearly a supporting one. (She will lose to Lady Gaga.) But Best Picture and Best Director? I’d be delightfully surprised, but I doubt it.

One last thing: I want to talk about Emma Stone and Oscar. As we all know, Stone won for La La Land two years ago after sweeping most of the season. While I like Stone in La La Land, especially in the “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” sequence, it’s quickly becoming apparent that the Academy jumped the gun. Stone has been better in two films since La La Land: last year’s Battle of the Sexes (as Billie Jean King), and now in The Favourite. Her Abigail is an exquisite creation, a reimagining of Eve Harrington in a corset. Add her masterful work in Easy A in there, and Stone now has three performances far better than her Oscar-winning one. Just goes to show how even when the Academy gets it right, they’re still kinda getting it wrong.

The Favourite is in Los Angeles and New York theaters now.


 

Kevin O'KeeffeKevin O'Keeffe

Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer and 'RuPaul's Drag Race' herstorian. He covers film and TV for INTO, and writes the movie review column "But How Gay Is It?" every Friday.

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