Yorgos Lanthimos has a knack for creating these slightly unsettling, psychological pieces (Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer), and his new period piece The Favourite has seen Lanthimos utilise that knack and venture into full blown tragicomedy.
With an award-winning performance from Olivia Colman as the turbulent Queen Anne and equally powerful deliveries from Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as Lady Sarah and young Abigail Hill, The Favourite takes us to the early 1800s smack bang in the middle of The Game only Lords and Ladies play…
The Favourite tells one of the wildest stories in royal history that we just don’t ever talk about apparently, so much so that it led me to go home and take a Wikipedia trip through the life of Queen Anne and work out all the intimate details and just how much the film may have stretched the truth.
Queen Anne is ruling alone amidst a battle against the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. Her close friend and adviser, Lady Sarah Churchill, oversees much of the Queen’s political activities and helps her maintain the country during the Queen’s declining health, but when her cousin, Abigail Hill appears having fallen as a Lady, Lady Sarah takes her in out of pity. However, Lady Sarah is kept from the Queen due to keeping the court in order and sends Abigail to entertain the Queen in her stead, and the two soon grow close in an abundance of lust, deception and conspiracies.
Another war to follow that with France begins to unfold between the two Ladies vying for the Queens affection, turning men into the inconsequential pawns of their bidding, accented with a jarring and sometimes overpowering score, wide-angle shots and a sense of the modernist absurdity that Lanthimos is so talented at. As a result, the film managed to evoke the discomfort felt by the characters within the audience, throwing us straight into the action of this beautiful historical drama.
It manages to make us feel unsettled, but also to laugh out loud and sometimes even cry at the trials the characters are facing in a nightmare-meets-dreamlike state, set to the pace of an extremely well written script littered with cutting one-liners and sad introspection into the background of our trifecta of leading ladies. Already, Colman has taken home the Golden Globe for her outstanding role of the Queen, perfectly executing the childish nature of a woman beset with loss and a lack of confidence, constantly needing reassurance from those around her (namely Lady Sarah).
The true winner for me however is Weisz, who carried the steely nature of Sarah Churchill with unmatched elegance and poise. She appears determined, unbreakable and fearless, staring down the explosive Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), quietly manipulating the actions of the Queen and fighting off the moves of her protege, Abigail. Even when Abigail makes a power-play that leaves Lady Sarah broken and battered, she returns stronger than ever with a fierce tenacity ready to destroy her opponent.
By the end, we’re left waiting for the final showdown between Sarah and Abigail, almost expecting a full-blown hand-to-hand fight for the Queen’s approval much like the duck racing of the elite, but instead Lanthimos leaves us with the Sarah banished and Abigail living in the palace, supposedly having won. However, the final scene takes us back into Abigail’s tragic past and leaves us to consider how the pursuance of absolute decadence can lead to absolute punishment.
Ultimately, there are no good people or heroes in The Favourite. These are lonely creatures, driven by their own greed and desire, using and abusing people to get what they seek regardless of what it does to those around them. It’s a fantastic two hours or intrigue, lust and betrayal that will entertain even those who aren’t usually enthused by the corsets and tea parties of historical films – find all showtimes for The Favourite in cinemas near you in below.