“The Favourite” (2018)
Running Time: 130 minutes
Written by: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Featuring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, James Smith and Mark Gatiss
Queen Anne:“Some wounds do not close; I have many such.”
It is truly amazing how quickly the critical establishment can turn against a director, then return him to favour, this is what has happened with newly Oscar nominated Yorgos Lanthimos, who directed the truly genre defying classic “The Lobster” (2016) then was shunned a little when his next film “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017) was released, not meeting expectations, not in terms of quality but what it does with narrative, plot and subject. Yorgos Lanthimos is definitely a unique director with a vision that is singular, at once accessible but aloof in caring what audiences think about the end product, that is true in the case of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and his new film the great “The Favourite” (2018). This new film is an oddity in the best possible way, it is a drama, with elements of comedy, post #metoo zeitgeist, a love story, political thriller and a healthy does of historical reimagining. There are so many elements of this film that I really enjoyed that any parts of it that didn’t quite mesh with me had no real effect, as the style and vison are so clear that you might be thinking someone with far more experience has directed it. Interestingly this is the first film that Lanthimos has not written himself so this may have freed him up to concentrate on how he wanted the film to look, feel, flow and give it even more flourishes than his previous efforts.
This is a spectacular film based around part of the life of Queen Anne that covers some true events of her life such as her many lost children, the tension between the Royalty as well as the strands of government in that time, but takes artistic license with so much more such as her sexual affairs with both Sarah Churchill as well as Abigail Hill. However its not to say it is not fun watching two women vie for the attentions of the Queen no matter the cost to themselves, each other and England itself which is a treat considering the talent onscreen. What sets this movie apart from previous Lanthimos films is that it is possibly less pretentious, as well as being set in an actual real world although to be fair everything about this world is heightened, turned up to eleven if you will. Another aspect is that it is driven by women who all at some point have their own agency as well as aims in life but never settle or give up even when what they are striving for may seem like a lost cause. Like many films that are set in a Royal Court or are about aristocracy this works well as we see the Queen from very different points of view, we see her from a commoners point, the lower class, the political point of view and from an upper class point of view as well with all that entails in terms of the treatment to and from each class, as well as deep manipulation with almost everyone involved.
“The Favourite” is set in 1708, Britain which is at war with France, and Queen Anne sits on the throne. In frail health due to gout, Anne shows little interest in governing, instead preferring eccentric activities such as racing ducks and playing with her rabbits, which represent the seventeen children she has lost over the years. Her confidante, adviser and secret lover Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, effectively rules the country by the confidences she passes to the Queen. Abigail Hill, Sarah’s impoverished younger cousin, arrives at Court in search of employment. Abigail is at first forced to do menial work as a scullery maid in the palace, but after seeing the Queen’s condition, she sees an opportunity to ingratiate herself with Sarah and, eventually, Queen Anne herself. To say that this story is simple is a crime; it has intrigue as well as humour that really does make it something very special.
The film is definitely given a boost as well as sending it into the top of peoples best films of the year in large part because of the performances of the three leads, who have also all been nominated for Academy Awards in Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, they all do very different things while playing characters that could be seen as similar but are in fact extremely different. While technically onscreen less than her two co-stars this is very much Olivia Colman’s film, she shines in a role where she must almost be three different people sometimes in the same scene, she can be funny, loving, dramatic, coy and vicious all the while maintaining some semblance of royalty as the Queen. She also seems to be having the most fun in her role playing against two tough women who also shine. It is no small feat in wrestling the spotlight away from two Oscar winners in Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. Both supporting actresses seem to be having a ball also in parts neither of them have ever played before, they are manipulative, calculating and above all have to seem to love the Queen at all time, attempting to one up the other at every turn without paying to any existing stereotype. I have to think it helps the director as well as Colman and Weisz that they have all worked together before on the breakthrough “The Lobster” which means they know just how to act in one of his films.
“The Favourite” is one of those unique films that mixes drama and comedy as well as bringing in many contemporary ideas, props, music, language and even dance numbers but it all feel like it fits naturally within the very simple narrative. It offers audiences a look into a life that is once alien but also instantly recognisable especially in the age we live now with fake news, an insane US government and court intrigue that today would be better suited to reality television and gossip magazines. To say that the writers have created something unique is an understatement, both Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara have never shown any ability to produce something as layered as this, it is politically astute as well as socially conscious in its representation of women as well as politicians. I have to believe that director Yorgos Lanthimos has also layered his own tastes as well as his own unique penchant for storytelling to make it personal for him, which it has, as this is one of the better most unique films of the past year.
This is without doubt one of the movies of 2018 with great actors and one of the best modern directors working today with an individual signature that sets him and his films apart from anyone working today. This is also a film that deserves to be seen in a cinema as it has a great sound as well as a magnificent look with a unique colour palette and a variety of lenses used to give it a feel of wonder, which is surprising in such a character based film. In a world where we are constantly spoon fed movies that are a dime a dozen or set themselves out to be just what you see it is refreshing to think that a film like “The Favourite” is still able to be produced to such a high degree and be seen by enough people that it can be considered a hit and a front runner at this years Oscars.