LFF 2018: The Favourite

The director of Dogtooth and The Lobster delivers his most accessible and entertaining film yet, with Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman outstanding in this wild period comedy

Film Review by Iana Murray | 22 Oct 2018
Film title: The Favourite
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, James Smith, Mark Gatiss
Release date: 1 Jan
Certificate: 15

Ducks race and rabbits frolic on palace floors in Yorgos Lanthimos’ masterful period romp The Favourite. It’s perhaps the Greek director’s most accessible film – and the most entertaining. Where his previous works had an affinity for the morbid, The Favourite places an empathetic lens on an 18th century battle of wits.

Olivia Colman reigns as Queen Anne, whose time on the throne is riddled with a nasty case of gout. She holds the crown but the one pulling the strings is Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), the Queen’s closest companion who uses her influence and position to control the kingdom. Their established hierarchy is shaken, however, by the arrival of Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone). She’s looking for a job as a servant but hides bigger ulterior motives. Her kindness and knowledge of medicinal herbs attracts the attention of the monarch, and a showdown to become the proverbial favourite commences.

The Favourite is a slight departure from the ongoing trend of Lanthimos’ films, most likely attributed to screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. It marks the first time since Dogtooth that Lanthimos hasn’t collaborated with regular co-writer Efthymis Filippou, and consequently some of the trademarks that helped crown Lanthimos the king of the Greek Weird Wave are nowhere to be seen. The stilted dialogue made infamous in The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer are gone – characters actually talk, somewhat, like human beings, albeit ones with dubious morals. The Favourite also drops the misanthropy, and though these characters are put through the wringer, the film isn’t as lifeless as Lanthimos’ other work. On the contrary, there’s a genuine empathy that emanates, a care for the central three women that is uncharacteristic but welcome.

Thankfully these changes haven’t come at the cost of the twisted sensibility Lanthimos has cultivated. Heavy in comebacks and heavier in expletives, characters attack with sharpened tongues. There is a violent side – a war with France is oft discussed but never shown – but the battle on local soil is a cerebral tug-of-war for power. The women weaponise their femininity as well, luring men then discarding them like pawns with a remorseless kick to the balls.

The regal madness is anchored by three career-best performances – Stone and Weisz are outstanding, but Olivia Colman is the real queen, injecting the infantile monarch with pathos and humanity. There’s a melancholy to the film as well – each individual is trying to overcome tragedy, and this time it’s not played for awkward laughs. Maybe Lanthimos does have a heart after all.

The Favourite had its UK premiere at London Film Festival, and is released 1 Jan by 20th Century Fox

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