Yorgos Lanthimos solidified his daring, offbeat reputation in 2015’s The Lobster and last years The Killing of a Sacred Deer. His refreshingly unique approach to filmmaking is no less apparent in The Favourite, starting off the cinematic year with a bang. Stylishly composed, the auteur establishes a clear tone of pristine peculiarity. Right from the opening credits choice of font.
Olivia Coleman stars as Queen Anne- a tantrum-prone child trapped in the body of a gout-ridden woman. Beside her is Sarah (Rachel Weisz), Anne’s domineering female confidante that was historically recorded to have “ruled the Queen.” And the third powerfully re-enacted lead is Abigail (Emma Stone). A kindly Lady who has fallen from prestige and ended up in the Queens kitchen. (And subsequently, her bedroom).
Both the female love-triangle and background politics have their roots in historical accuracy. But of course, Lanthimos has stretched his artistic license to the very maximum. (Sarah and Abigail were indeed competitively close to Anne, who was known to be “not very bright, nor was she very strong-willed.”). But what is true and what is fiction is irrelevant. Lanthimos’s tragicomedy is set to brake cinematic barriers, not monotonously recount political intricacies.
All three actresses execute their characters with admirable detail. Emma Stone utilizes her facial expressions to the full, with even the smallest raised eyebrow adding a spark of comedy. Coleman is unafraid to scream and sob her way into the audience’s hearts, as a surprisingly dark backstory motivates her extreme mood swings. Weisz is unflinchingly honest in her juxtaposing brutality. Overall, the complexly layered relationships dominate The Favourite with glowing performances. With government and warfare acting only as background noise.
Aesthetically, Lanthimos traces a line of contemporary elegance despite the 18th century setting. A refined colour palette, alongside an extravagant- often humorous wardrobe, promote an eccentric yet polished cinematic tone. Witty, black comedy is weaved through what could easily have been a period drama…had Lanthimos not gotten his innovative hands on the screenplay. Violence is abruptly shot through with a ring of satire. Meanwhile, sharp cuts between silence and keen strains of violin keep us on the edge between reality and absurdity.
The wide-lensed cinematography magnificently encompasses grandeur sets and echoing open spaces. Yet Lanthimos still evokes the personal with close-up shots of faces under emotional pressure. Despite a voice behind me exclaiming “Is that it?” when the final credits rolled up, the final shots were perhaps my favourite (no pun intended) of the whole film. Two silently heart-breaking images, held for an uncomfortable length of a time, are superimposed with the cause of Anne’s personal strife. Enabling this oddball comedy of lust and duplicity to reach further than simple entertainment. Discovering a core of sacrifice and grief.
Drama, Comedy | UK, 2018 | 15 | 1st January 2019 (UK) | Fox Searchlight UK | Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos | Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Mark Gatiss