Thursday 20 December 2018 6:16 pm

The Favourite: Olivia Colman is extraordinary as Queen Anne in this provocative period drama

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Anyone remember Queen Anne from history class? Me neither, but if Olivia Colman’s blistering portrayal of her is anything to go by, I can see why. The last of the Stuarts, she spent her final days in the early 18th century severely depressed following the death of her husband and 17 children, and hobbling about on a painful, gouty leg.

To make it worse, she was at war with the French (again) so handed over legislative and military control to her most trusted friend Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Winston’s ancestor; he was born in Blenheim, the palace Anne built for her). Rachel Weisz plays Sarah as a Machiavellian firebrand who’s not afraid to tell the Queen that she looks like a badger.

All is turned upside down when her poverty-stricken cousin, Abigail Masham (a devilishly manipulative Emma Stone) turns up at court asking for employment, but soon sets about supplanting the Duchess in the Queen’s affections to become her new ‘favourite’.

Set in a grubby world that doesn’t shy away from chundering in chamber pots, it’ll make you thankful you live in a time of onesies and bath bombs. It’s also uproariously vulgar, if a bit laboured in its flagrant use of the C-bomb.

Other incongruous moments, however, are ingenious; a drawn-out dance scene in which the Marlboroughs break-dance in full period costume for the Queen’s pleasure is a more ludicrously effective parody of the court the longer it goes on.

Colman’s extraordinary, switching from childlike insolence to haunted depressive in the tremble of a lip. Nicholas Hoult also deserves a special mention as the odious leader of the opposition. As brave as it is bonkers, it’s a masterclass in how to make history provocative in the coarse age we find ourselves in.

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