Alex Reid, Arts & Entertainments Co-Editor.
Ever since 2015’s The Lobster, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has accrued an astounding level of auteur credibility in a very short time. The Lobster showed a penchant for satire, character, and a pitch black humour that was both eminently accessible and rich in depth.
The Favourite is Lanthimos’s third English language feature, and it’s quite possibly his best. The story follows the unstable Queen Anne in the early 18th century, caught amidst a war with the French whilst being openly manipulated by her friend Lady Marlborough and her new maid Abigail. In more tame hands this story would become a stale and stiff period piece, but Lanthimos’s innate absurdist sensibilities transforms the story into a quietly radical piece of filmmaking that is likely to make waves at next year’s Oscars.
Lanthimos’s films have always been accused of having overly stiff dialogue, but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t fit within the royal courts of Queen Anne. The pomp and circumstance of every character, set, and plot point is both proud of a heritage of more traditional royal dramas, and openly subversive with taboo topics that are best left as a surprise.
Above all else, the three central female performances form the beating heart of the film. Queen Anne, Lady Marlborough, and Abigail played by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, all reach career highs in heavily contrasting moments of bombastic scenery chewing and subtle heart-breaking facial expressions. Lanthimos focuses every frame on the women, their expressions, and their surprisingly contemporary struggles. Any one of these three performances would be awards worthy on their own. All three put together is a dramatic masterclass of expression, intonation, and communication without saying a word.
Without giving the film’s best surprises away The Favourite explicitly cites the heritage of the English royal drama then takes a sharp left turn into territory the genre rarely touches before. Lanthimos makes no bones about the taboo topics he tackles, reframing them out of familiar modern contexts into more illuminating genres we think we know.
The Favourite is a quietly radical film, and one that may not find an immediate audience, but the three central performances, delightfully idiosyncratic cinematography, and joyously taboo subject matter will make for a strong awards contender, if not an outright classic.