Find Favor with ‘The Favourite’ (FILM REVIEW)

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Director Yorgos Lanthimos has always been a filmmaker I’ve wanted to like more than I’ve actually liked. He’s certainly creative, crafting unique, singular worlds that have stuck with me, even if the narratives they’re attached to have not. With both of his previous two films, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I found myself drawn in by the visual lexicon Lanthimos uses while being put off by the way his stories unfold. I certainly begrudge no one who holds either or both of those films in high regard and understand why the do. My personal experience with both films, however, left me frustrated and cinematically unfulfilled.

It was, then, with some measure of caution that I approached the director’s latest work, The Favourite. As with The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the film earned high praise on the festival circuit before mass audiences got the chance to experience the buzz for themselves. Healthy skepticism can be a boon for films that earn acclaim at festivals; the Festival Blinders Effect is all too real. In this case, I’m pleased to say, so is the buzz.

With The Favourite, Lanthimos has made the best, most intriguing movie of his career. It is a bitterly hilarious film of ceaseless wit which perfectly balances the talents and charms of its three lead actresses in the most fascinating period piece in years. Brilliant hardly seems to do it justice, and Lanthimos has finally proven that his brand of bizarre can be translatable outside of the insular worlds of his own creation. Indeed, that this is his first film written by someone outside himself—in this case, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara—might have something to do with that.

The film explores the bizarre relationship between Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her trusted advisor, Lady Sarah Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). Friends from childhood, Lady Sarah holds an outsized influence over the Queen and her decisions. That position is threatened when Lady Sarah’s fallen cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone), comes asking for work. Abigail and Sarah soon find themselves in an escalating series of back-stabbings and betrayals, as each vie for the affections and ear of the British Throne.

Though the film’s tone is decidedly dark and comedic, it was inspired by Lady Sarah’s memoirs and is, assuming we trust the source to be true (a point of some contention among historians), largely faithful to the realities of the tale. Lanthimos brings this period to life with a vivid eye alongside cinematographer Robbie Ryan, who shoots the film in natural lighting for a gorgeous look. Together, they capture both the griminess of the time as well as the beauty, offering a stark contrast between the aristocracy and the commoner.

Colman, Weisz, and Stone, meanwhile, each turn in what will no doubt be remembered as the performances of their careers. Colman plays Queen Anne with a mix of spoiled brat and ball of angst that makes her one of the more memorable stooges of the modern era, which couples nicely with Weisz’s posh, straight man Lady Sarah. Weisz has always been a fascinating portrayer of poise, and she shines in her role here. The disruption of the straight man and stooge dynamic by Abigail’s introduction provides a fun twist, as Weisz and Stone each alternate between straight man and stooge as they vie for position within the court.

Their battle for favor is replete with stunning one-liners and baffling retorts, making The Favourite one of the more quotable movies in years. It’s sort of like Mean Girls by way of Amadeus. Each line is laced with subtext and meaning, similar, in a way, to the double dealings of court politics and the film positively begs for multiple viewings.

Not only has Lanthimos finally softened my stubborn heart, he’s also crafted one of the best, most memorable films of the year. The Favourite is an absolute delight that will absorb and enrapture you at every turn. Even those who don’t typically enjoy films of court or period works will surely find something in which to revel within The Favourite. As with all of his works so far, Lanthimos has made a film of singular vision and unique perspective. Lucky for audiences, he’s finally decided to bring more of us along for the ride.

The Favourite is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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