The Favourite

The Favourite ★★★★½

It’s official - 2018 is the year that Rachel Weisz was “totally lesbi-gay” on screen. After Disobedience and now Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, Daniel Craig might as well invest in Doc Martens if he wants to keep his marriage intact. 2018 also seems to be a year of jet-black comedies with The House that Jack Built, Thoroughbreds, The Death of Stalin, and this. All of these guilt-ridden, disturbing laughs are probably a sign of the times, and it’s interesting how pertinent The Favourite manages be despite it being set in the early 18th century.

It has been noted before that director Lanthimos’ Greek origins play an indelible role in the political subtext of his films. This movie is no different as it seems to be a commentary on the fickle nature of weak leadership and the chaos that ensues. Opportunists, sycophants, turncoats, and nihilists plague the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) as her physical and mental health are failing her. A struggle for who pulls the Queen’s strings is set in motion between Sarah Churchill (Weisz), her disgraced cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), and the prissy men of Parliament. It’s equally amusing and worrying to watch a head of state lose their marbles until one realizes that people’s lives hang in the balance at the whims of a petulant, under-qualified despot. It’s even more interesting that there’s quite a lot of historical truth behind this narrative, all dramatic embellishments aside.

Behind the curtain of the political reality there was a more personal drama going on between the three leading ladies. “Character is what you are in the dark”, and these women have plenty to spare for better or worse. Weisz and Stone spar with each other, vying for Colman’s attention while their motivations and moralities evolve naturalistically. Their complexities make for a compelling subversion of the typical protagonist vs antagonist build of many period-set dramas, and this one distinguishes itself in more ways than one thanks in no small part to Lanthimos’ idiosyncratic stylings.

While absent much of the inert affectations of his other films, one could argue that the prim and pompous pleasantries of high English society are equally alienating an atmosphere to complement his oeuvre. This is in no small part due to it being the first film that the director has adapted without a script written by himself and long time writing partner Efthymis Filipinos. Penned by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, their input has obviously curbed the director’s more austere and bizarre proclivities. As for gorgeous cinematography, hilariously awkward dance sequences, and the begrudged, pensive hand-job, most of the hallmarks of his filmography make an appearance here.

One novel divergence from your typical period drama is the prominent use of fish-eye lenses amidst the other wide-angle lens shots. It gives many of the scenes a sense of voyeurism as we’re peeping in on the taboo proceedings of the characters’ personal lives, all the while every immaculate detail of the Hatfield House and Hampton Court Palace are on full display to be probed and held to the same scrutiny we give these flawed and familiar characters. Lastly, it should be noted that the thousand-yard stare of Colman’s mad queen are among the most disturbing images in Lanthimos’ already nightmarish film world.

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