This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Josh Bentley’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I stated in my recent review of The Lobster that Yorgos Lanthimos is capable of beautiful storytelling, but has - however - not reached peak form. I rescind that statement after having viewed 2018's The Favourite. This film is an utterly exhausting delight to experience. It's captivating, enveloping, and jaw-droppingly riveting. Filled with characters who are cunning, powerful, absurd, idiotic, resourceful, vile, and beautifully disgusting, there is at least someone to relate to in the film's intimate story of government, power, legislation and love.
Yorgos takes a subject that is foreign to many (and distant to all), with the events in the film having taken place in the early 18th century, and folds in a story that is overwhelming and personal. An expert in absurdism, Lanthimos trades his classic fantasy-esque elements in for historical bouts and inferred happenings, and the transition is seamless. There is still the air of Lanthimosean absurdism, seen in the dialogue and direction of certain characters, but there is a distinct beauty in the restraint Lanthimos committed to. There is a beauty in the tangible nature of the characters in this film.
You really get to understand Queen Anne (Colman), Sarah Churchill (Weisz) and Abigail Hill (Stone). The film's story is not only enthralling, it is expertly paced. Using a chapter system, Lanthimos' story is linear but saturated with witty banter and saucy exchanges among characters, giving the viewer a sense that he/she/they are living these events alongside the Queen and her court.
The acting is phenomenal as well. Weisz and Colman stand out among the rest. Colman balances the naiveté of Queen Anne with raw sequences of love and loss. The Queen may be naive, but she was nonetheless caring and deserving of love. Weisz's Lady Marlborough is much less so naive, and much more cut throat. She's relentless, ruthless, and familiar with the bureaucratic nature of the parliament. Weisz captures you with her stern and sharp nature, and almost distances you from her character with how vile she can be. But she draws you back in with splashes of love and sincerity. She is my favorite part of the film.
Emma Stone, one Abigail Hill, is equally disturbing. Her performance is one of her best. She nails Hill's initial cluelessness, but soon embraces the workings of the court and becomes an equal of Weisz's. Both are capable of impurity and viciousness, but also of love and sincerity. This story is best exemplified by its characters and the actors who portray them.
But the cinematography, score, and writing are all superb as well. There is a real flow to the dialogue in this film. It's elegant and snappy, and lively thanks to the performances of the actors. The cinematography is immaculate. Lanthimos and his DoP chose to use blacks, whites, and greys for many of the garments in the film. Backdropped by regal golds and silvers, maroons and blues of the royal grounds, this juxtaposition is genius and a pleasure to view. The color palette is not like The Lobster, with washed out tones and dry, muted colors. It's lively and full, royal and ruthless all at once. There is a heavy use of light and shadow as well. With many scenes only lit by candlelight, it gives those respective scenes a sense of privacy and urgency. But it fills us, the viewers, with a sense of invasion. That we are peering into the secrets of the individuals on screen.
Overall, The Favourite is a deeply emotional film, laced with dark and dry humor, and brimming with viscous acts of love and hunger for power. Its performances are some of the best of the year, and Lanthimos has certainly reached his peak with such a piece.