This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Aaron’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Scavenger Hunt #46 - January 2019 (1/31)
2. Something NEW (i.e. something that's not out yet, but is premiering at your local cinema in January).
"There are limits to what one can give."
From what I understand of Yorgos Lanthimos's filmography, The Favourite is perhaps his most mainstream offering of his career so far. The film is perfectly cast - the three leading ladies and Nicholas Hoult give particularly noteworthy performances through which the film can be analysed.
Olivia Colman returns to her frequent, regal role as a member of the royal family - this time portraying Queen Anne in 1708. Usually, an actress might worry about being typecast by returning to such familiar roles, but Colman portrays Anne so uniquely that it's hard to compare it to her previous performances as British queens. It is clear from Colman's costume, spending most of her appearances in the film in a nightgown, owing to her being frequently ill, that the audience is supposed to find her feeble and ugly. Colman showcases her acting range in the film, hamming up Anne's childish petulance for comedic effect, as well as portraying her condition post-stroke in the latter acts of the film with technical ease, from the slurring of her speech to her bodily movements.
Rachel Weisz portrays Queen Anne's original court favourite, Sarah Churchill - the Duchess of Marlborough. Weisz's character subverts the gender dynamic of 18th century Britain, as she is assertive and respected by the court for it. The costume design also compliments Sarah's characterisation - as her recreational dress is traditionally masculine (hunting boots, straps & hats), while her court dress is feminine. Sarah even treats the Queen with tough love, stands up to politically powerful men and is sexually dominant with Queen Anne. Lanthimos avoids the pitfalls of male directors and films featuring lesbian sex - the sex scenes are charged, but in no way exploitative (looking at you, Blue is the Warmest Colour) focusing almost entirely on the women's faces and usually in a state of dress rather than focusing on the women's bodies through the male gaze.
Emma Stone shows perhaps the greatest character progression in the film, with a tone perfect performance as the Queen's new court favourite - Abigail Hill. Stone expertly guides Abigail from pitiful servant who powerlessly watches a strange man masturbate over her in a crowded carriage, to wily court favourite, who brazenly flirts with other men at a ball in front of her husband and captivates the ear of the most powerful woman in the country. It wouldn't be a Stone performance without her trademark comedic timing, which the screenplay allows for - with moments of genuine comedy, particularly in her scenes with Joe Alwyn, who was almost certainly cast due to his real life role as Taylor Swift's boyfriend - perhaps to aide in the difficult task of actually marketing such an eclectic film to mainstream audiences.
On that note, The Favourite is a film that is difficult to categorise. Part historical period drama, part romance & part comedy - the film willingly indulges with multiple genres. Of course, Lanthimos puts his trademark stamp of distinctness and absurdity - in this film expressed through scenes of politicians lobbing oranges at a naked man in front of a screen, or royals racing ducks. These events are often left unexplained, but speak to the excess of the setting the film takes place in.
Another way Lanthimos constantly reminds the audience of the film's excess is through Nicholas Hoult's character, Robert Harley - who constantly opposes continuing the war in France (the War of the Spanish Succession). The film also hints at the divide amongst the upper class and landed gentry of 18th century Britain through the political lens of taxpayers funding war - a political theme relevant even in contemporary society. Additionally, Hoult excels in his role as the film's comic relief. He shows an awareness of Harley's ridiculousness, with heavy makeup and an obvious beauty mark that the film makes a thinly veiled attempt to pass as a mole. In terms of gender politics, the film casts its men in supporting roles and are heavily made up and disposable, despite their positions of power in society. This speaks to a reversal of gender politics external to the film - in a society in which female-led films are rare and men are often considered required in order to make a film widely marketable.
Not only is the film female-led, but it deals in themes of homosexuality in a way that makes the film decidedly queer, but as a non-issue. The sex Queen Anne has would cause a scandal regardless of gender, and The Favourite is a shining example of positive representation that does not underscore the character's sexualities outside of the film's closely intertwined gender and sexual politics. Lanthimos makes it clear that he is not necessarily interested in historical accuracy, but takes creative liberties with the historical people and setting - to the film's benefit.
With The Favourite, Lanthimos extends his ability and range as a director, working from a screenplay he has not himself written for the first time. I'd wager a bet that The Favourite will be his most commercially and critically successful film, despite its difficulty to categorise. A genuine joy to watch, The Favourite manages to avoid some obvious pitfalls and merge the best elements of multiples genres to produce an excellent film with decided rewatch value.