Review: The Favourite
Some directors break the traditional mold and expectations of filmgoers. Seeing the start of Yorgos Lanthimos’s career, with titles including Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, he certainly falls into that category. Despite casting bigger name actors as his success grows, his style has remained apparent throughout. In seeing the trailers in the lead up to the release of his latest, The Favourite, one might assume that his style was changing to become more accessible. This is both correct and incorrect.
The Favourite is definitely his most accessible film. The monotone, nearly emotionless line delivery of his last two films is nowhere to be seen here. However, his tendency to make audiences work for the true emotion underneath is very much on display. As this film is set in a royal court, no one is as they seem. The emotions they show, whether it be pain, rage, or sadness, is almost never the true emotion, but rather a gambit to gain favor or an advantage on another. So despite this adjustment in style, The Favourite stays true to Lanthimos’s tendencies and vision as a director.
The film follows Abigail (Emma Stone) as she attempts to obtain a position in Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) court through the help of her personal connection to Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). None of these women are simple protagonists, but that is part of what makes them so entrancing to watch. They each have their own end and goals in mind, sometimes to the detriment of themselves and others. Instead of feeling like there is no one to root for, the viewer may find themselves switching allegiances throughout the runtime, much like the members of the royal court. The sharpness (both in wit and intelligence) is another reason to respect all of these women, even if can’t bring yourself to like them. But honestly, they all have the ability to be wicked, kind, or both, totally dependent on the moment. And who wouldn’t enjoy that on display? Of course, the men are just as duplicitous, but they are mainly relegated to the background (although Nicholas Hoult as Harley is particularly devious and a joy to watch). The focus is on the three women, as it should be. All three leads give award-worthy performances and Weisz, in particular, seems to relish in the banter provided by screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara.
This is easily Lanthimos’s most gaudy film to date, as it is essentially a costume drama. And he revels in this, using wide sweeping shots of the palace and grounds, with the help of cinematographer Robbie Ryan. This serves to remind the audience that you never know what, or who, could be hiding behind any darkened corner, either to simply watch or to launch into a devious attack. No one is to be trusted, and everyone is out for the own gains. Lanthimos also uses his setting to every advantage, even in quieter moments. There is one particular scene between Abigail and Harley among lit torches which is particularly effective both in terms of plot and striking visual imagery. And similar to his previous work, Lanthimos uses the film score to instill dread, even when paired with images of stunning beauty. This, combined with Colman’s harrowing performance as Queen Anne will keep audiences unsure of what to expect and even how hard we should laugh at some of the absurdity on display.
In many ways, the main focus of the film is on the relationship between Anne and Sarah, and how it is impacted when Abigail arrives on the scene. There has been particular care taken to not spoil anything in the film here, so this reviewer hopes you can see the movie unsullied and experience it fully. The Favourite has a lot to say about love, friendship, and loyalty, all without giving any solid answers by the time the credits roll. This should, of course, be no surprise to Lanthimos devotees. He allows the audience to draw their own conclusions, and it results in a terribly satisfying journey.
Put simply, The Favourite is one of the best movies of the year, and demands attention. With these previously mentioned performances, it will be difficult to pick who will be rewarded as the awards season comes upon us. But maybe that is even more appropriate for this film. There is no favorite in The Favourite and no opinion but your own should be trusted in the end.