The Favourite

The Favourite ★★★★

Drawing strength from his three powerful leading ladies, director Yorgos Lanthimos finds his right footing at his third stab at an English-language film in The Favourite. This lavish period drama sets out as a court intrigue following the intersected lives of monarch Queen Anne, Sarah Churchill and Abigail Masham. Devious at their own right, these powerful women take the center stage with their unabashed complexity and raw humanity. And with Lanthimos’ remarkable helm, The Favourite miraculously finds beauty in this story’s irreverence, purpose in its cruelty and empathy in its misdemeanors.

You don’t actually have to read the English history to update yourselves while watching because the writing is so succinct, and richly detailed. Queen Anne has so many health complications that affect her reign, thus major decisions are made by her subordinates. But she’s not dumb. She uses every single bit of her charm to deceive, manipulate, and even lure whatever she needed. At the same time, Sarah Churchill and Abigail Masham have their own motivations and use every bit of resource to stay at the top of the power chain. It’s a triangular power struggle and the electricity of the actresses playing these roles make the engine work for this particular film.

It’s important to note that this is the first film that Lanthimos did not co-wrote. It is however, written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara which proved to be a game-changer in Lanthimos’ style of filmmaking. I used to complain that after his brilliant breakout thriller Dogtooth, Lanthimos lost his edge working in English-language cinema. His past two films The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer are all about Lanthimos’ self-constructed worlds where he provides acute social observations, but fairly lack dramatic purpose in his excessive use of terror and violence. Though The Favourite stands out because it feels like audiences are not treated as outsiders looking through, but rather spectators fully inhabiting Lanthimos’ immersive world.

At times, self-indulgent with his camera choices and and unnecessary techniques—Lanthimos’ technical display is nothing but remarkable. This is the first time where he actually relied on his actors to shape his film and it actually shows. Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone brought each of their dynamic presence and it’s infectious. The effortless Colman is an acting dynamite showing comedy and tragedy all at the same time. Weisz is sharp, and possibly her best performance of her career. While Stone brings her delicious British accent, and elevates an ingénue-stock type of a character and makes it her own.

Overall, The Favourite is Lanthimos’ most accessible, crowd-pleasing film to date. But behind all the great technical work in this film, all I can remember is how great these actresses are, and most especially how we take Olivia Colman for granted.

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