“The Favourite”- Movie Review
In the past few years or so, Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has slowly started to creep into the limelight. His recent projects- such as 2015’s The Lobster and last year’s psychological thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer- have introduced modern American audiences to his peculiar style: a dry yet quirky sensibility that’s elevated by Kubrick-esque camerawork and bizarre narratives. This style of oddness can be an easy turnoff for casual moviegoers. Though if you’re interested in checking out his work yet are unsure if you’ll even like this work, don’t fret. His latest project, The Favourite, is a suitable gateway into his filmography.
Lanthimos’s seventh feature film winds back the clock to 1708. Britain is at war with the French, and its increasingly ill ruler, Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) shows little interest in governing the kingdom. She instead relies on the advice of her closest confidant, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), the Duchess of Marlborough, for all political and personal matters. This level of influence, as a result, puts Sarah at a top spot in the aristocracy, and effectively makes her the commander of the country. Her control is threatened upon the arrival of her younger cousin, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), who’s looking for work. Once she gets wind of how Sarah rose to power, she decides to use those tactics to her own advantage. Soon enough, both women are at each other’s throats, vying viciously for the queen’s affection and a prime seat on the court.
If you have a sweet tooth for scandalous historical dramas with a biting edge, then you’ll find plenty to love in this film. On a technical aspect, The Favourite draws you into the time period through lavish sets, a fantastic use of natural lighting, and beautiful costume designs. Though it’s the writing and a triage of brilliant performances that keep you hooked from start to finish.
Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are outstanding. The entire cast does a terrific job, but really, these women carry the film on their backs, and own every moment they’re on screen. The script has shades of Lanthimos’s signature emotional coldness, something that, in his other films, can result in a story and characters that feel bone-dry. Here, the actors are allowed more personality. The coldness is conveyed more through the characters’ actions and the apathy of the aristocratic environment they’re enveloped in.
Stone and Weisz deliver wickedly entertaining performances. I adored every aspect of their rivalry: the petty backstabbing, the sexual manipulation, the posh threats of violence that escalate to full-on sabotage. I ate it up. While they’re the type of characters you love to hate, Coleman’s portrayal of a deeply-troubled ruler is more empathetic, but equally compelling. The writing for them is sharp and clever, and the dark humor laced throughout the film only elevates it.
Besides a lengthy running time and an ending that doesn’t immediately satisfy (but the more you let it marinate in your mind, the more okay with it you become), The Favourite has very few flaws. It’s a fantastic drama with a cruel edge that’s too good to resist. It’s by far one of Yorgos Lanthimos’s most accessible films, if not the most accessible film I’ve ever seen from him. Although a little subdued, his style permeates every scene. It gives you a fresh and interesting movie-going experience, so if you’re on the fence about seeing it, I say go for it. If you’re in the mood for cruel debauchery, you won’t be disappointed.