Reviews: 'The Favourite,' 'Mary Queen of Scots' take royally different paths

Two stories, both alike in dignity, are told in very different ways

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Emma Stone and Olivia Colman in "The Favourite."

Two royal houses, two vastly different approaches to filmmaking, two very different results. 

"The Favourite" and "Mary Queen of Scots" arrive in theaters concurrently, but share little in common beyond their costumes and royal subject matter.

"The Favourite" is director Yorgos Lanthimos' ("The Lobster") deliciously catty comedy about the power struggle inside the castle of Queen Anne, played by a marvelous Olivia Colman. 

Rachel Weisz is Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, who is Anne's right-and woman and sometime lover. Her proximity to the throne affords her great political power, but her position is threatened when Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), a maid, enters Anne's chamber and begins jockeying for Churchill's position. 

"The Favourite" is an uproarious send-up of the aloofness of royals, and comes alive thanks to its sterling ensemble cast (Nicholas Hoult is also worthy of note, playing a young British statesman) and Lanthimos' pristine direction. He uses superwide lenses, nearing a fisheye effect, which allows his shots to overflow with the rich detail of the immaculate production design. And while his previous films, particularly "The Lobster" and last year's jarring "The Killing of a Sacred Deer," have been cold and callous, he allows room for humanity in "The Favourite," which makes the story relatable far beyond the sometimes short reach of heavily costumed period fare.    

"Mary Queen of Scots" is more traditional in its approach to its royal subject matter. The 16th century tale stars Saoirse Ronan in the title role and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I, and explores their testy relationship and Mary's attempts to overthrow Elizabeth. 

Saoirse Ronan in "Mary Queen of Scots."

Where "The Favourite" pointedly avoids the stuffiness typical of period pieces and follows a blueprint that translates easily to any office or friendship situation, "Mary Queen of Scots" feels like sitting through a history lesson, and not a particularly enlightening one. It comes alive when the fireworks between Mary and Liz finally explode, but it's a long time coming, and the ride is a bumpy one.

The key to the two films is in their approach. "The Favourite" crackles because it's a soapy story that's fun to roll around in, while "Mary Queen of Scots" has a handsome look,but feels like it belongs on a shelf inside a library, collecting dust.


'The Favourite'


Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity and language

Running time: 121 minutes

'Mary Queen of Scots'


Rated R for some violence and sexuality

Running time: 124 minutes