By Jack Dignan
In Cinemas December 26th
There’s an inherent absurdity one comes to expect when walking into a new Yorgos Lanthimos film. It’s the larger than life, frequently monotone and straight-faced dialogue exchanges mixed with ridiculous, dark premises. It’s the terror, the humour, the violence, the shocks and the unforgettable endings. Now seven films into his career, Yorgos has proved himself to have the makings of an auteur, and like every great auteur, even in the films he doesn’t write himself (such as this one), it still feels very much like the work of a singular vision.
The Favourite takes us back to early 18th century, where Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) continues to sit on the throne despite her slowly failing mind. As time begins to pass her by, Anne has left most of the governing in charge of Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), but things change when a former lady turned servant, Abigail (Emma Stone), arrives at the kingdom. Her charm and affection towards the queen sees her slowly rise to stand by her side, thus upsetting Sarah and creating a violent, sex fuelled rivalry over the course of this deranged, yet sensational dark comedy.
While technically based on a true story, The Favourite screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara implement a sensational interpretation of the real life events, upping the boisterousness and leaning heavily into the more fantastical elements. It’s a truly wild, unpredictable voyage into a game of power taking place between these three women, who are all vying for the love and affection of those around them. The lengths they go to are extreme, and the results are as thought provoking as they are funny. I’m still unable to get this film’s final shot out of my head.
The preposterous story is captured with an obscure beauty, with cinematographer Robbie Ryan implementing wide lenses and only the use of natural lighting. There’s rarely a close up in sight, but the visual aesthetic is one of pure artistry. I’m not usually a fan of the fish eyed lens effect, but Ryan makes tremendous use of it and with every new frame he adds to the unease and slowly rising chaos that this film has to offer. Bonus points deserve to be given for the brilliant production design, makeup and costume design, particularly during the several party sequences.
However, the real standouts here are the three lead performances from Coleman, Stone and Weisz, who each in their own right earn the label of ‘lead,’ no matter what categories Fox decided to put them in for awards consideration. The vicious rivalry between Stone and Weisz sees two utterly brilliant actors battling it out on screen in the most devious and entertaining of ways, but it’s Coleman’s terrifying insanity that steals the film. I’ve never felt so physically ill watching someone shovel down cake before. It’s grotesque and excessive, but a true display of brilliance. In fact, it may just be one of my favourite performances of the year, period.
There’s so much here to interpret, so much to love, and so much that I’m still letting sink in. Exploring sexual politics in the 1700s has never been so much fun. I can’t quite pinpoint what exactly it was that’s bringing my rating down from a perfect score, as there’s nothing here that I feel was a notable misstep (perhaps some very minor nitpicks throughout, or the fact that all the best jokes are revealed in the trailer, although that’s hardly the film’s fault). Still, I thoroughly enjoyed this bat-shit crazy movie. Yorgos, you’re a mad bastard and I love you for it. Thank you.
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