Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman deliver career-best performances in Yorgos Lanthimos' most accessible – and entertaining – film yet
Ducks race and rabbits frolic on palace floors in Yorgos Lanthimos’ masterful period romp The Favourite, perhaps the Greek director’s most accessible – and entertaining – film. In this 18th century battle of wits, we find Olivia Colman reigning 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 (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 (Stone). She’s looking for a job as a servant but hides bigger ulterior motives; a showdown to become the proverbial favourite commences.
Many of the trademarks that helped crown Lanthimos the king of the Greek Weird Wave are nowhere to be seen in The Favourite. The stilted dialogue seen 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. 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 from Stone, Weisz and Colman. Each of their characters is trying to overcome tragedy, and this time it’s not played for awkward laughs. Maybe Lanthimos does have a heart after all.
Released 1 Jan by 20th Century Fox; certificate 15