Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenwriters: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
Runtime: 119 mins.
Australian release date: 26 December 2018
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on 13 December 2018.
The Favourite is the latest feature from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, maker of the seriously weird films The Killing Of A Sacred Deer and the Oscar-nominated Lobster. Lanthimos never fails to push cinematic boundaries and this occasion is no different. His new film is set in the beginning of the 18th Century in England, when the gout-ridden Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman), a foul-mouthed tyrant, rules her Court like a schoolyard bully. Uninterested in affairs of state, she is advised by her dear friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), whose husband, Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss), is about to be sent into battle with the French. The country is at war and the parliament is split between those who want to negotiate peace and those wanting to continue the fight. Lady Sarah, the Queen’s favourite, has taken on the role of de facto ruler, because Anne is preoccupied with her health issues and there are days when even getting out of bed is a chore. She’d rather play with her 17 rabbits, race lobsters and eat pineapple.
The muddy arrival of Abigail (Emma Stone), a young woman whose family’s position on the social ladder has been vastly compromised, changes the status quo. She is intent on gaining back her lost privileges and, being both shrewd and beautiful, it’s not long before she has inveigled herself into Lady Sarah’s favour and, through her, the Queen’s. Abigail quickly learns that attending to the whims and fancies of the monarch is not the only requirement for keeping the Queen amused (nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more!) and she soon becomes the Queen’s principle attendant when the rigours of war take over more of Sarah’s time. Add to this the intrigues of Court and, particularly, the machinations of Harley, Leader of the Opposition (Nicholas Hoult), and you’ve got a regal drama unlike any previously seen. It’s a refreshing take on a period that historically was controlled by men but, in Lanthimos’s world, it’s the women who are running the show.
Divided into eight chapters, with crazy titles like ‘I Dreamt I Stabbed You in the Eye’ and ‘I Do Fear Accidents and Confusions’, The Favourite is the most accessible of Lanthimos’s recent films and is certainly his most spirited in the use of language, and very strong language at that. Unlike in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, these characters are not afraid to emote - big time; their deliveries are far from monotone and the use of expletives is normal. The gloriously sumptuous interior locations are decorated with the most beautiful tapestries (it was filmed in Hatfield House and Hampton Court Palace) and the period costumes are equally magnificent. The score is brilliant and the three female actors in top form. All are excellent but Olivia Coleman is a tour-de-force - it’s the best thing she’s ever done. The Australian screenwriter Tony McNamara is largely responsible for the wonderfully comic script, working from an original screenplay by Deborah Davis. He says that, “The story is about how complicated love is, and how who you are as a person can be perverted and deformed by those complications. We called it a comic tragedy and that’s what it is.”
The conspiracies and betrayals of a royal Court caught up in matters of love, lust and power are illustrated in the most acerbic and kinky manner, making The Favourite a film that will delight many and shock some. It also shows how little human nature has changed over time. Lanthimos explains, saying “When you make a film set in another time it is always interesting to see how it relates to our time - you realize how few things have changed apart from the costumes and the fact that we have electricity or internet. There are so many ongoing similarities in human behaviour, societies and power.” His film is bound to be a contender during the awards season and has already been nominated for five Golden Globes. Look out for many more awards - it will definitely be a favourite.