Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn
Running time: 120 minutes
If you enjoy dystopian romance stories in which the unlucky-in-love are transformed into animals after 45 days – no, not Tinder: The Movie – or films with ‘Deer’ in the title that don’t feature any such animal whatsoever, chances are you’re a fan of Yorgos Lanthimos.
The Greek director rarely plays by the rules. His films have consistently proved divisive and while his latest, The Favourite – which takes us back to 18th Century England to the wonderfully weird world of Queen Anne – is arguably his most accessible film to date, it isn’t without generous servings of his on-brand wackiness.
Colman steps into the shoes of the mad monarch who sits atop Britain’s throne, carefully balancing her time between lobster racing – a sly nod to the director’s 2015 film, perhaps – and putting off decisions concerning the country’s war effort against the French. Her closest advisor, Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Weisz), effectively runs things with her confident decisiveness, aptitude for sharp, undermining sarcasm, and genuine adoration for her Queen. However, Sarah’s influence over Anne soon comes under siege with the arrival of Abigail (Stone – adopting a crisp, convincing English accent): a penniless relative seeking employment (amongst other things) at Court as a maid but who the Queen soon takes a liking to. Cue a rich, darkly comical in-house feud between two privileged cousins fuelled by a burning desire to be the royal favourite. Think Mean Girls in Early Modern fancy dress, with badger make-up and more than a few naughty words.
The brilliance of The Favourite is that, despite being based on historical events (with a sprinkle of fictional flavouring), we never truly know where we’re headed. Anne is perhaps the most enigmatic of all Britain’s female monarchs, and without ever being overbearing, Lanthimos carefully weaves the outlandish and unpredictable into his disquietingly formal 8-act structure. From the frequent adoption of a fisheye camera, to wide-angle shots, accompanied by a deep bellowing score and oddly spaced typography, everything about the film oozes uneasiness. There is something of a beautifully dreamlike terror that looms over large portions of Lanthimos’ film, splicing into his dark satire of power – and the sinister lengths people will go to obtain it – a Lewis Carroll-inspired surrealism (rabbits and all) that festers away under candlelight.
But Lanthimos is also a master of timing, and with The Favourite, he once again showcases his seemingly innate ability to balance the sincere with the playful. For all her devilish scheming, there is a sobering loss of innocence that underpins Abigail’s story; while Anne’s chaotic, child-like tantrums appear to mask a tragic grief and longing for something as entirely universal as motherhood. And yet, despite this, we are never too far away from an outburst of explicit profanity, or the next intriguing placement of Robert Harley’s (Hoult) facial mole. This is a film about disguise, about dress-up, about extravagance (more so from Lanthimos’ male characters than any) that is as human as it is hilarious.
With such a talented trio spearheading proceedings, it should hardly come as a surprise that fine performances permeate The Favourite. However, even with the entertainingly cunning conflict between Weisz and Stone, it is Colman who steals the show from under everyone’s noses (and eccentric wigs). As the unstable figurehead of Britain, she dazzles as a woman who is simultaneously off-the-wall bonkers, vulnerable, and fiercely intimidating. Unquestionably, she is the crowning achievement of Lanthimos’ film in more ways than one.
A contemporary period piece with a much darker shade of lavish, and the word c**t. As one can imagine, The Favourite is pretty darn glorious.