The Favourite (2019)

By Lucy Mainwaring-Parr, Criminology Undergraduate.

This is not your regular historical drama.

When choosing a partner, the divisive options seem to be either honest to a brutal fault or full of unrelenting and unconditional praise. The choice between the the two seem to be the key debate in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. An addict of period dramas myself, having been enthralled several years ago after having watched Lanthimos’ The Lobster, I had long been awaiting the release of this decidedly off-the-wall film in cinemas. The story is acted out in the court of Queen Anne, centring around the power play of the Queen (Olivia Colman); her confidante and advisor the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz); and the Duchess’s cousin, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), who is searching for social security. The film begins with Abigail arriving at court, a ‘lady’ whose family has tragically fallen from grace. The intent? To ask her cousin, the Duchess of Marlborough, for a position as a maid. After providing relief of the Queen’s gout, seemingly with no ulterior motives, Abigail finds herself falling into rivalry with her cousin who uses the Queen’s confidence to manipulate politics, while Abigail herself, as pointed out by the Duchess, seeks safety.

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The performances of all three leading women can be described as nothing short of striking. The characters are complex, and their quirks are manifested regularly with the effect of constantly challenging the loyalties of the unsuspecting viewer. Queen Anne – capricious yet deservedly winning the audience’s sympathy – is played masterfully by Colman, proving her place as a worthy equal to Hollywood veterans Weisz and Stone (both previous Oscar winners). Colman’s ability to bring pathos to this initially comedic role is a golden thread throughout the film. Her performance in The Favourite has even been tipped for an Oscar, with the actress having already won a Golden Globe and the Venice Film Festival’s prestigious Volpi Cup. Weisz and Stone’s on-screen rivalry is enhanced by their chemistry. Both characters inspire sympathy, but the audience are unlikely to find themselves supporting one party over the other as their manipulations and motivations swell, nobly and villainously, to a boiling point. The cinematography excels under Lanthimos’ directorship, using his infamous fish eye camera lens to distort, while layering visual reactions of characters on top of each other to enhance the confusion of motives.

This is not your regular historical drama. It’s contorted in every element: visually and in terms of its plot, rife with debauch behaviour. At times the dizzying camera movements felt as lucid as Alice’s rabbit hole, accompanied by the theatrical costumes. The Favourite is also far more explicit than a typical period drama (often depicted as a gentle watch). The plot embraces desires, explicit language and violence. The dynamics between the trio are refreshingly complex: men play little motive. The women are leaders, fighting for their own happiness and survival in a court seemingly framed by male politics. The Favourite is cuttingly modern despite its backdrop of the early 18th century. It is both comical and extraordinarily tragic, securing its position as Lanthimos’ greatest achievement to date.

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