Only Yorgos Lanthimos could make a film about backstabbing-bitchiness, treachery and duck-racing a viable candidate for a Best Picture contender. The Favourite is Lanthimos’ third English-speaking film, following on from his success with The Lobster (2015) and The Killing of a Scared Deer (2017) and will be regarded by the masses as his most accessible film he’s ever produced.
Whilst The Favourite still retains and aura of oddball eccentricity (Lanthimos’ signature style), the typical monotone delivery and difficult-to-like characters of his predecessors are nowhere to be spotted here.
Set in 18th century England in a ravishing country estate which substitutes for Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) Palace. The plot swirls around the struggling power dynamics of its three leading ladies. There is the aforementioned Queen Anne who suffers from terrible stomach pain and Gout played with equal parts hilarity and tragedy by Colman.
By her side is her eldest friend, advisor and part-time lover Sarah the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). And finally there is the latest addition to the Queens staff Abigail (Emma Stone). She is the cousin of Sarah, who begs her for a job at the palace after some tragic circumstances left her widowed and without station.
As the Queen’s Gout pain leaves her bed-ridden and howling like a dying mule every night, Abigail spots an opportunity to climb the hierarchal ladder by applying an organic paste to the Queen’s leg. Sure as sugar this alleviates the pain and Abigail soon rises through the ranks to become the personal chamber servant of Anne.
With a newly found kinship struck between Anne and Abigail, this causes a clash of interests and personalities with Sarah and the green-eyed-monsters start to surface in a three of them.
Sarah uses emotional manipulation tactics to keep the Queen under her thumb, whereas Abigail adopts a kill-them-with-kindness approach which works just as well. Plus Abigail and Sarah are not above extorting their sexualities to entice the Queen into siding with them. But as the tactics grow more cunning and dastardly the consequences are utterly hilarious.
All three of the leading ladies performances play together in perfect harmony. And each of the pairings within the trifecta, inform and compliment the others beautifully. Credit needs to be given to script writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara for crafting this balance as well as injecting so much sharp serrated dialogue into the proceedings. Try not to chuckle at lines as wonderfully daft as “I’ve called for some Lobsters, I thought we could race them and then eat them”.
Lanthimos also makes excellent use of the interior space of the Palace – every shot is saturated with exquisite detail and is complimented by cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s gentle and natural lighting.
Sandy Powell should also be making space other mantle for another Oscar for Best Costume Design. She excels whenever she gets to do period costumes and there isn’t a single busty dress, curly wig or frilly cravat out of place. They very much provide the film with it’s flavour; regal but silly.
The Favourite is everything you could want from a Lanthimos film; it’s strange, hilarious, sly and wonderfully original. The cast is led by three terrific (awards-worthy) leading ladies and is rounded off with superb supporting work from Nicholas Hoult, Mark Gattis and Joe Alwyn. The Favourite (pardon the pun) could very easily be “the Favourite” for next years Best Picture and is one not to be missed.
The Favourite is released in UK Cinemas January 1st 2019.