Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

The Favourite

The Favourite -- review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

This is the third Yorgos Lanthimos film we have seen, and at this point part of the thrill is enjoying the crazy stuff he pulls off.  The first was The Lobster, a black comedy we liked less than the critical mass did, finding his insistence on having his actors deliver their lines without affect or inflection both distracting and self-indulgent.  We did appreciate its absurd originality, though.  The second was The Killing of a Sacred Deer, an update of the story of Agamemnon, the legendary Greek king who accidentally kills a deer belonging to the goddess Artemis.  In retribution, he must sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia.  Lanthimos' interpretation was riveting, though uneven.

Those films were written as well as directed by the auteur.  Not so with The Favourite, the first Lanthimos film not written by him, and this might be the magic solution because it reined in his propensity toward excess.  Screenwriter Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara penned this one, and either they are perfectly attuned to Lanthimos or he to them. This is easily his best film; a period piece with a touch of madness, nastiness, and absurdity.  As a bonus, he lost the signature flat delivery of his characters and allowed his excellent, charismatic cast outlets for their talents.

It's the early 18th Century, and England is pitted against France in the War of Spanish Succession. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is ditzy, depressed, and distracted--in other words, uninterested in governing.  Thank goodness her childhood friend Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) is around to handle the affairs of state (and other affairs) whila Anne fusses over the 17 rabbits she keeps in her stateroom.  Steely and blunt, Sarah is the match for any man, including Tory opposition leader, Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult), who opposes Sarah's intention to keep the war going and her husband, Lord Marlborough (Mark Gattis) at its head of the army.  (Fear not, The Favourite is about as interested in the war as is Queen Anne; it is merely backdrop to inspire court intrigue.)

Enter Abigail (Emma Stone), a victim of circumstance--her father lost everything, including her, to gambling.  She introduces herself to her cousin Sarah and begs for a job at Kensington Palace.  Sarah takes pity and employs her as a scullery maid, but as we soon learn, Abigail is not the ingenue she appears.  She soon maneuvers herself into the Queen's good graces, setting up a rivalry with Sarah to become the titular "favourite."  Abigail also caught the eye of Masham (Joe Alwyn), Harley's best friend, and the Tory leader sees opportunity.  Frustrated by his inability to win against Sarah in head-on confrontation, he believes he can manipulate Abigail though Masham.  Thus sets up the most devious, humorous, and scandalous merry-go-round of period drama intrigue since 2016's Love and Friendship.

The Favourite pulls off any number of things a lesser film could not.  Cinematographer Robbie Ryan often employs wide angle fish-eye shots, production designer costume designer Sandy Powell elected to use only two colors--Oxford blue and white--for the dresses of all of the ladies of the court, the only differences among them being the patterns.  The film is a comedy, and Lanthimos--or the screenwriters, or both--walk the tightrope of what we can accept.  Their eccentricities bring a delightful originality to the period piece: champion racing ducks, pelting a naked man with pomegranates, a ballroom scene with dancers voguing, and a sprinkling of contemporary termiology, like "OK."  The pitched rivalry between Abigail and Sarah is hilarious, reminiscent of 1989's War of the Roses in its inventive nastiness, but Weisz and Stone sell the underlying pain and desperation each woman feels.  It is Colman, though, who grounds the film.  Though her behavior is at times farcical, her insecurity and the sadness at her failing health bring depth, and when we learn the reason for her devotion to her rabbits, it is heartbreaking.   We beieve this is a major awards player, destined for 8-10 Oscar nominations, and perhaps the best film of the year.
9.5 oiut of 10


MegCarrie said...

I've been searching for a movie to check out, your review just sold me on it! I love period pieces and a newcomer to Yorgos Lanthimos films. Now I can't wait to check it out!

John DeFrank said...

I hope you enjoy the movie, Meg. Let me know what you think. I'm hit and miss on period pieces--love most Masterpiece theater offerings, though. The Favourite is an original, and I particularly liked its venom (a la Love and Friendship).

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