Yorgos Lanthimos Plays His FAVOURITE

One of the most electrifying period pieces ever made

For me, there are two hallmarks of a good director. The first is the ability to create a wholly original world within each of their films, and the second is being able to ensure that each one of their films is as different as the last. After getting some serious attention in 2016 with The Lobster and even more acclaim with last year’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer, writer/director Yorgo Lanthimos had certainly proven himself where both areas are concerned. However, with his latest effort, The Favourite, the slightly surrealist filmmaker has offered up another layer of his cinematic versatility. In the most miraculous and spellbinding of ways, the director has crafted a period piece which weaves real history, wickedly dark humor, and a somber feeling that comments on fate and destiny in a way only an artist like Lanthimos can, all but subverting the genre in the process.

The fictional tale is set in 18th century England during the reign of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), when the country is knee-deep in war with France. Fragile, high-strung and incredibly unpredictable, the Queen is plagued with one distressing situation after another, which she manages to survive thanks to her trusted companion/friend/lover Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). Sarah also happens to be the one pulling the strings when it comes to England’s participation in the war, much to the chagrin of aspiring politician Harley (Nicholas Hoult). Things take a life-changing turn for everyone when Sarah’s desperate cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) comes to the palace looking for employment. Taking pity on her, Sarah hires Abigail as a servant girl. It isn’t long however before Abigail being slowly rising up the ranks with devious intentions of overthrowing her cousin and becoming the Queen’s “favourite.”

If there’s one common link between The Favourite and the rest of Lanthimos’s films, it’s the otherworldly slant he puts on the worlds in which they all take place. Stylistically, this is a period film that takes chances with its look and feel, giving off a sense of dark mischief mixed with a fatalism. The music is a mix of the operatic and the melancholy, the fishbowl-like camera movements and the wonderland-esque production design all work together like a hypnotic symphony, giving The Favourite a signature that is purely Lanthimos. The same quality can be found in the film’s script, which manages to alternate between dark comedy and classic tragedy, with Anne being the main bearer of both. “They were all staring, weren’t they?” she asks after falling to the ground while addressing parliament. “I can tell even if I can’t see. And I heard the word fat; and ugly!” The script, written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, manages to vary up the potent hilarity by contrasting it with a pensiveness and longing within the comedy. “Some wounds do not close; I have many such,” Anne states as her illness begins to take her over in one of the film’s more poignant moments.

There are myriad themes swirling around throughout the world of The Favourite; all of them taken to the extreme in ways indicative of the era in which the film is set. In different ways, the quest for power and survival are at the forefront of the film as all three women wrestle to maintain control of their world in one way or another. Who succeeds and who doesn’t remains firmly up in the air and says more about fate and destiny than any type of cunning strength. It’s the elements of love and madness (and in a sense, the way the two intertwine) when Anne, Sarah, and Abigail find themselves out of their depth in their attempts to keep from being undone by the forces. This is especially true in the case of Sarah and Anne, whose secret, but tumultuous romance emerges as the most tragic aspect of The Favourite. Also up in the air is the question as to who is the film’s hero and who is its villain since all three women spend their time on screen exercising manipulation and underhandedness, while also longing for a personal fulfillment of sorts.

The revelation of the acting trio here is Colman, who after years of strong performances has landed the role of a lifetime that has her switching between comedy, madness, and devastating heartbreak. It’s a tall order for any actress to deliver such a collection of emotions believably AND repeatedly, which Colman manages to do, taking the film with her in the process. Weisz similarly enjoys her richest role to date. Tasked with The Favourite’s most gray character, Weisz taps into Sarah’s affection, jealousy and calculating nature, pleading her character’s case and reasoning behind all her actions in mesmerizing ways. While Colman is a hoot, it’s Stone who gets most of the laughs however, thanks to the large amount of physical comedy she must perform as Abigail, enduring pratfalls and slaps, fueling her determination to rise to the top. The actress has long since proven herself in the world of comedy, but she’s never excelled at it more than she does here. Finally, although he’s forced to compete for attention with the three formidable ladies at the film’s center, Hoult turns in one of his most accomplished turns as a man with his own agenda, which he pursues relentlessly, leaving his own impression on the film.

One of the biggest comments being made about The Favourite recently was the positioning of each of the film’s actresses in the wake of awards season. Debate has been quick regarding who is carrying the film and who is very clearly carrying the others. The issue of separating performers into categories they don’t belong solely for the purpose of doubling the chances of the film winning prizes has always infuriated me. It seems totally fair and reasonable that two performers can share the same film without one being placed in different levels, for whatever reason. Watching the trio of actresses in The Favourite, I can say I finally understand some of the decisions that have been made regarding this specific film. As of now, Colman has been pushed forward as the film’s lead while Weisz and Stone have occupied supporting slots. It wasn’t until the film’s third act when the gravity of Colman’s role (and what it required of her) proved to outweigh that of Stone’s participation. Weisz meanwhile will most certainly be a victim of circumstance. Her role is as demanding as Colman’s in its own way, and The Favourite ultimately ends up being THEIR story. But in Hollywood, as in the film itself, I suppose there can only ever be one favorite.

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