The Favourite - Review
One of the most brilliant films of the year.
Yorgos Lanthimos has slowly but steadily made his way to the forefront of radical cinema in the last three years. The Lobster gave him a voice, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer showed he had plenty to say. This is, of course, simplifying these two films drastically, and I highly recommend you watch them before seeing The Favourite (you can see them both on Amazon). In doing so it will become apparent the type of film this is, and what kind of humor it is pining for. The comparison to Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon is necessary, and while this is a very different film, it is no less grand, and a brilliant achievement.
This is Yorgos Lanthimos’ first true comedy. The tone moves like Shakespeare, major events followed by moments of humor. The pairing of Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone is better than anything Lanthimos has directed so far, and a much different dynamic. The married couple of The Killing of a Sacred Deer were distant, echoes of their past selves pulled closer by necessity, pushed further away emotionally. The romance of The Favourite is hidden, no longer the obvious spotlight of Lanthimos’ last two films, though no less important. The conversations here are light and argumentative, and without the prolonged sense of dread that has accompanied Lanthimos’ work to this point. The Favourite’s stakes are lower, but they feel as monumental as ever. The Queen of England (Colman) is a harrowing person, striking not only fear into her subjects, but pity as well. She is injured from a riding accident early in the film, her emotional decay represented by her resulting health. She’s a monument to the people, but her own pride and tradition have made her unreachable to nearly everyone, save her closest friend and advisor, Lady Sarah (Weisz). Their relationship is quickly revealed to be more than is perceived, and becomes the source of conflict. The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer both held the threat of death over their characters; The Favourite marks the director’s first major shift toward less gruesome subject matter. The tension is immense, replacing survival with societal rank, as Abigail (Stone) enters the scene to steal the Queen away from Lady Sarah. The ensuing drama goes beyond petty arguments or any cliche of how women fight; faces are torn open, and lives are ruined. There is no limit to the women’s brutality, and as they come closer and closer to performing irredeemable acts, one is forced to reel back and judge the worth of their pursuit.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ camera direction is as jarring and intrusive as ever, with an added fisheye lens that occurs roughly twice per Act. It makes small scenes massive, and puts every inch of focus on the center of the frame, fading the rest into a muddy grain. The natural lighting makes scenes that don’t use this lens feel raw, unedited, as if we are in the castle with the characters. This is a heavily stylized film, and this lack of polish is not without purpose. The old Victorian era of England is thought of as beautiful, decadent, and in many ways, visually flawless. The magnificent dresses and powdered wigs of the era show up in The Favourite, but they are covered in mud, or else manipulated to a strange degree. Nicholas Hoult’s Robert Harley, the leader of the opposition in British parliament, wears a powdered wig so ridiculous he has trouble entering certain rooms. His ever changing mole is another out of place variable, constantly shifting to different parts of his face and with odd new patterns. The humor of The Favourite is most unique in this way, bending the period piece genre into a perplexing shape. It involves multiple fights between men and women, and plenty of sexual advances that most would not relate to the time. The script is packed full of these moments, lending the disturbing scenes a sense of overhead comedy. It is one of the most beautiful films of the year, and an absolute tour de force for the actors involved. If there were any doubts that Yorgos Lanthimos’ style could not translate, they will be dispelled by The Favourite.