'Two-queens' Colman brings grief, comedy to Venice in 'The Favourite'

VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - “It is fun to be queen sometimes,” exclaims Olivia Colman in “The Favourite”, in which she plays a physically and emotionally crippled monarch who swings from childlike glee to childish impetuousness in the space of a sentence.

The 75th Venice International Film Festival - Screening of the film "The Favourite" competing in the smiles. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

The British actress, soon to be seen as Elizabeth II in the Netflix series “The Crown”, plays Britain’s 18th-century Queen Anne as a heartbroken widow whose pet rabbits that have the run of her palatial bed chamber are surrogates for the 17 children she has lost during or soon after pregnancy.

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite” is a relatively conventional costume drama without the surrealism of his arthouse hits “The Lobster” or “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, but it shares those films’ vicious sense of humor.

“The Favourite” is one of 21 movies entered for the main competition at the Venice Film Festival, which runs until Sept. 8.

The story is based on the real-life relationship between the queen and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, played by Rachel Weisz, who, as the queen’s closest confident, is able to sway national policy to suit her own ends.

When Sarah takes on an impoverished cousin, Emma Stone’s Abigail, as a maid, she soon finds she has a dangerous rival for the queen’s favors.

“My main interest was, this time around, to create those three female characters, which I thought was something that you rarely see in cinema,” Lanthimos told Reuters in an interview.

The men in the film, including a prime minister who insists on carrying around his pet duck (“the fastest duck in London”), and a powdered courtier who insists women want their men to be “pretty”, are at best ineffectual and at worst monstrous.

“I wasn’t seeing female characters represented in cinema in an interesting and complex way as human beings. They are usually the housewife or the girlfriend or the object of desire and I just felt when I saw that there is a real story about these three very complex women I just felt that it was something that I wanted to do,” Lanthimos said.

For Colman, who played alongside Weisz in “The Lobster” but is best-known for her Bafta-winning comedic and dramatic performances on British television, taking the lead in “The Favourite” is something of a breakthrough.

“It’s the biggest lead for a film I have had, and playing Queen Anne is a gift,” Colman said of playing a character who is both a “petulant child” and “a woman who is under-confident and doesn’t know if anyone truly loves her”.

Reporting by Robin Pomeroy and Sarah Mills; Editing by Mark Heinrich