Justin Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
Director Yorgos Lanthimos delivers a wickedly funny and uniquely modern take on period piece, about two delightfully devious women jockeying to be the Queen's Favourite.
"You are enjoying all of this, aren’t you? ... Well, it is fun to be queen sometimes."
Only a year after delivering his darkly comedic Kubrickian domestic thriller 'Killing of a Sacred Deer', Lanthimos has followed it up with this fantastic historical drama, reminiscent of Kubrick's 'Barry Lyndon'. In The Favourite Olivia Colman plays the habitually ill Queen Anne from early 18th century England. Her lead advisor Lady Sarah played by Rachel Weisz is a cunning aid to the Queen both politically and lustfully. But when the equally sharp Abigail played by Emma Stone comes into the situation, Lady Sarah's dominance over the Queen's favor is placed in check.
Outside of 'Amadeus', The Favourite is by far the most briskly paced and engaging period piece that I can recall seeing. Lanthimos added a unique visual flair by using a special lens in many of the shots, that made it look like we were witnessing the scenes from a peep hole, which elongated the image and gave it a slight bend on each side. Not only was this a fascinating view to watch the events unfold, but it also thematically hinted how we were getting a glimpse from behind the curtain, as this royal drama played out.
Next, the sassy modern flair of the drama made the story so much more relatable. There is plenty of prim and proper English speech and wit, but you also have moments like when Abigail is walking down a hallway saying 'fuck, fuck, fuck'. Also her encounters with the politicians had the interesting feel of a school yard bully aggressively trying to get their way.
The tactful feud between Lady Sarah and Abigail is the one to watch, and I especially enjoyed the sequences on the shooting range where Sarah displayed her dominance by being dressed in masculine clothing while working to keep Abigial inline. But we also come to see that while Anne is not in the best of health, she is the Queen and she knows how to exercise her power. Meantime, it is a treat to see Abigail take these small risks like medically treating the Queen herself and making sure her efforts are known, to making it look like she was beat up in order to keep her status with the Queen on the rise.
The production design and lighting in this movie was simply gorgeous. You truly feels transported back to another era in this palace with rich wooden walls, tapestries, lush courtyards, and authentic old English costumes. All the use of darkness and candle light looked great, and also hinted at all the dark maneuvering going on within the palace. I also must note the use of long fades, especially on Abigail which seemed to allude when she was about to make a move.
The range of classical music featured was also really interesting. You have some sequences where the music is so simplistic, with just a beat of percussion and one note from a bow on a string. I recall this musical theme being heard in moments when the women were making strategic moves, at times when the Queen was most ill. Then at other times there was very full symphonic pieces played that reminded me of music from 'Barry Lyndon'.
The Favourite is easily one of my top films of the year, and I hope it gets some awards season recognition because it is easily Lanthimos' most accessible film that I have seen. But I still need to watch 'Dogtooth'.
How about that ending, very ambiguous! So we see that Abigail becomes comfortable once she has won, since Sarah was exiled after her blackmail attempt backfired. Abigail proceeds to display her power by squashing one of the Queen's rabbits. The Queen apparently hears this and shows Abigail her place by having her rub her legs.
The film ends on long shots of each woman, and then fades both of them into view before the shot is overwhelmed by rabbits. Earlier on in the film we found out that Anne has all these rabbits she cares for, because of the pain she endured from losing so many children at or around their birth. Why exactly is this shot of Queen Anne showing her final act of hierarchy over Abigail surrounded by rabbits? Possibly it hints that just like Abigail, another smart young woman may be right around the corner to challenge her as The Favourite.
Thanks for reading!
Happy movie watching .... SKOL!