Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 120 Minutes
This is a repost of our review from NYFF 2018, The Favourite opens in theaters Friday.
Who better could tackle the bizarre decadence of 18th-century aristocrats than director Yorgos Lanthimos, the mind behind such brilliantly odd films as Dogtooth, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer? While considerably more grounded than his previous efforts, The Favourite, is no less accomplished and every bit as wildly entertaining.
Set during the War the of Spanish Succession, the film stars Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne of Great Britain, whose failing health causes her to offload many of her governing duties to her close friend and confidant, Lady Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, played by Rachel Weisz.
Coleman’s portrayal of Queen Anne could only be described as childlike, frequently throwing tantrums and relying on servants for every aspect of her life. She’s desperately lonely, craves attention and frequently takes out her frustrations on those in her employ. Coleman gives a knockout performance, acting as a perfect counterbalance to Weisz’s portrayal of Lady Sarah, a more proper, devious and cunning character.
As Lady Sarah attempts to push the agenda of the Whigs, bringing more war to the land, her plans become upended as her cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone), arrives looking for work after her family fell on hard times. Out of familial loyalty or perhaps pity, Sarah hires Abigail, who quickly sets out a plan to usurp Sarah for her position under the Queen.
Told using predominantly wide angles and fisheye lenses, there’s a noticeably unique look to The Favourite, one that’s not typical of period pieces but that works incredibly well, aiding in both accentuating the ornate halls of the manor and solidifying the odd humor that radiates from the screen.
Lanthimos and screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara are not concerned about historical accuracy, frequently deviating from the perceived vernacular of the time, opting for more contemporary dialogue, which is subtle enough as to not break the immersion of the time period while also providing a slew of laugh-out-loud conversations that might otherwise be presented as bleak realities of the era, an example of which is when Masham (Joe Alwyn) visits Abigail in her quarters to profess his love for her.
Had it not been for Stone’s deadpan delivery and nonchalant, unfazed reply, we may be horrified to realize that what the character is exclaiming is such a normalized event, but instead it’s played for laughs. It’s this style of dark, subtle humor that makes The Favourite shine. It’s not as overtly bizarre as Lanthimos’ previous films, but it’s anything but a stuffy period comedy, and his signature remains all over it.
As Abigail and Sarah begin their battle of wits to win the queen’s favor and literally be given the keys to the kingdom, Anne vacillates between the two, seemingly aware of the conflict but never fully realizing the agenda of each woman. Abigail positions herself as the antithesis of Sarah, kind and soft spoken, whereas Sarah is blunt and domineering.
Rather than directly commanding the queen to make orders, she slyly makes an alliance with the opposition party to the Whigs, the Tories, teaming up with party leader Harley, played by Nicholas Hoult, in undermining Sarah’s plans for an extended war.
Although it may seem like a straightforward narrative, remember who’s at the helm and be prepared for many twists and shocking surprises, along with plenty of bunnies and duck races along the way.
The Favourite is a film that combines a brilliant script with a visionary director and employs the talents from an incredible cast to coalesce into a filmgoing experience I won’t soon forget and one of my favorites this year.