The Favourite

The Favourite ★★★★

"[...] What sets apart The Favourite most from Lanthimos’s previous features is not so much the time period, but its softer treatment of the human body and its many desires. In his earlier films, there was an intentionally robotic quality to the characters, their bodies used as emotionless, fleshy vessels for the dutiful purpose of sexual fulfillment or temptation. In The Favourite’s first sex scene, the horny, lonely Queen Anne excitedly whispers, “Fuck me,” to Sarah and gets her rocks off in what seems like actually enjoyable intercourse. And even as Sarah manipulates Anne for her own gain, there’s something of real love and pleasure beneath the mind games. Abigail, on the other hand, seems to get off on power itself—something stolen from her, which she feels owed to her and gains back on her own terms. Most important, the women in The Favourite are given the kind of sexual autonomy withheld from Lanthimos’s past female characters.

The men, on the other hand, big-wigged and powdered, can hardly keep up with the women. Abigail catches the eye of a nobleman named Masham (played by Taylor Swift’s beau, Joe Alwyn) and watching them flirt is entertaining (they chase each other like schoolchildren, and Abigail makes allusions to her many kinks). And after using Masham to marry back into nobility, Abigail still prioritizes her personal agenda. Lady Sarah goes through hell and back after a violent incident, and while women “nurse their wounds like wailing newborns” (according to someone at the brothel where Sarah is found and nursed), Sarah remains tight-lipped and proud, refusing to expose her hand even in immense pain. She then returns with a battle scar, and wears a makeshift eye patch for the rest of the film.

As Anne, Colman takes on a traditionally more masculine role. Her power is consequential and magnetic, and men await by her bedside at all hours as she makes political decisions. But it’s more fun watching her at the center of a love triangle often only afforded to older men: Her younger love interest threatens to outshine her older one. And Anne has the kind of power to grant them social mobility in this game of flirtations. Yet the gender politics don’t feel like a contrived effort to flip the script. The Favourite unfolds naturally, even though this is Lanthimos still leaning into his braggadocious tendencies. It works because it feels like the product of its director loosening up—he’s having fun, even when it’s done with a devilish smile."

— excerpt of my review for The Nation

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