The Favourite

The Favourite ★★★★

I'd known a little about Queen Anne beforehand - mainly that she had an unhappy life with numerous failed pregnancies - so The Favourite was both illuminating as historical documentation and a stunning film in its own right.

The Queen, fat, gout-ridden and gluttonous, is neglectful of her royal duties, leaving that to her lover Sarah Churchill, Lady Marlborough. Sarah's cousin Abigail arrives on the scene and soon begins to worm her way into the miserable monarch's affections so as to become again the lady she was born as. As the two warring cousins, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are shrewdly cast and cope very well indeed (even if the latter isn't quite as good at the English accent as everyone seems to think). However, towering head and shoulders above everything is Olivia Colman, simultaneously imposing and pitiful as Anne - one of the most multifaceted performances I've seen in a recent film.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos, of whom I'm not a fan, has created something properly accessible for once, though not devoid of interest as cinema. I saw this with my brother who rightly pointed out that period drama is rarely this cinematographically experimental. DP Robbie Ryan shoots in all manner of fisheye and wide-angle lenses that chime well with the film's morbid sense of humour. The way Lanthimos frames closeups evokes Kubrick - but the Kubrick of Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange, not Barry Lyndon, oddly. Then there's the screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, which reminded me of The Draughtsman's Contract in its deployment of verbose eloquence smattered with casual vulgarity. It piles on the deadpan wit to beguiling effect.

One problem with the film is that it feels too overstuffed with plot - this simple story of the relationship between three people is adorned with stuff that feels slightly extraneous. Furthermore, I got the impression that the screenwriters were trying to catch the audience out at certain points, because I wasn't sure when I was supposed to laugh at some things being said. Overall, my biggest issue is that if you asked me if I had a favourite bit, I'd be unable to answer. Some things that come close to being my favourite parts are often tonally at odds with the rest of the work.

Despite the problems I had with it, this is a film that works uncommonly well - its modern feel offsets the 18th-century setting with fascinating results, and it's lifted by a superlative central performance. And that last shot - or group of shots, I should say - give the work a poignant slant that says as much about its protagonist as a hundred lines of dialogue could.

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