Movie Review: Oscar-nominated ‘The Favourite’ is Lanthimos’ Most Accessible Film to Date
Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz star as a pair of conniving ladies out to manipulate Queen Anne of Great Britain (played by Olivia Colman), and by extension the entire country during the War of Spanish Succession, in The Favourite, the latest and most accessible film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Killing of a Sacred Deer).
But what might sound like a stodgy period drama is instead a biting, often contemporary-minded dark comedy that frequently turns bitterly funny the further it pushes its characters towards through a twisted narrative.
At the outset, Stone’s impoverished Abigail Hill arrives at Queen Anne’s Court in a carriage opposite a masturbating creep before being kicked off into a pile of mud and horse excrement.
This isn’t, in other words, a haughty fancy-dress period piece, a fact we’re subsequently reminded of via its character’s foul mouths and close-ups of Queen Anne’s gout-stricken legs. While The Favourite’s Oscar-nominated costumes (by Sandy Powell) are fittingly majestic, they’re often soiled by the air of dirt and depravity that hangs over the rest of the film.
Abigail wasn’t always covered in excrement, however: she was once a Baroness whose standing was ruined by her depraved father, who gambled her away in a card game. She’s also a distant relation of the powerful Duchess Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), and has come to Court seeking employment - and a route into retrieving her lost social standing.
That route cuts right through Sarah, the confidant and lesbian lover of Colman’s Queen who effectively rules the country due to Anne’s general ambivalence towards all matters political.
As Abigail and Sarah seek to viciously undercut each other while manipulating their standing in the Queen’s favor, the country’s male political leaders - including characters played by Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, Mark Gatiss, and James Smith - find themselves completely lost amidst the female power struggle, despite their own machinations.
The Favourite is powered by three brilliant central performances, all Oscar-nominated; Colman for Best Leading Actress and Stone and Weisz for Supporting. Stone and Weisz steal the show in equal measures as the relentlessly driven manipulators, but Colman’s quiet, even heartfelt turn as the oblivious Queen lends this bitter satire more depth than it might have otherwise contained.
Following Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Favourite is easily ‘Greek Weird Wave’ director Yorgos Lanthimos’ most accessible film to date - - which should be no surprise given his entry into the world of awards-season Hollywood filmmaking.
But while the state of bewilderment that his previous films operated in is largely gone from this feature, Lanthimos has not lost his bitterly acerbic touch: The Favourite is at its very best when rubbing our noses in the filthiness of high-class 1700s snobbery, and delivering a Kafkaesque recompense to each of its characters during their journey.
The Favourite is not Lanthimos’ best film (that would be Sacred Deer), nor the best film of 2019 - - but among Oscar-nominated features at this year’s Academy Awards, it’s my pick, at least, for Best Picture.