Review| The Favourite

Review| The Favourite

If you’ve ever watched a Yorgos Lanthimos film you know he likes to defy the conventions of traditional storytelling. Everything from nonlinear story structure to provocative content, his films aren’t exactly a relaxing experience at the theater. His latest film, The Favourite, is no different. While his previous work had audiences flinching in their seats, this latest offering from the prolific director is a little bit more palatable, but an assault on the senses nonetheless.
So why is he noted as one of the “directors to watch” each awards season? His first two English-speaking films, The Lobster and Killing of a Sacred Deer were provocative enough to get people talking and to earn him awards nods, though they didn’t go all the way. This year it seems the conversation is going Lanthimos’ way as The Favourite has received rave reviews from critics and audiences.
It’s easy to understand why. With a gorgeous production design and costumes that would be a shame to snub this awards season, the Greek director flaunts his creative stylings in this period drama that is loosely based on Queen Anne who ruled during a significant time in England’s history, most notably, the uniting of England and Scotland to make Great Britain and the War of Spanish Succession. These events play second fiddle to the more personal drama that unfolds between Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), and Sarah’s recently employed cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone).
In a show-stopping performance by Colman, Queen Anne is portrayed in a ghastly, melodramatic manner in which she floats from tantrum to tantrum. While it does seem as though her life has been marked by tragedy and illness (history supports this), she indulges in her suffering in the most outrageous ways. No one scene supports this better than when she is  sprawled out in her bed chambers weeping between bites of cake and vomiting. It’s hard not to feel a level of empathy for her character as its clear no one is more disgusted with her than herself.
It doesn’t help the queen’s state that her close friend and lady of the court, Sarah, both panders to and manipulates Anne to get her way. When the film opens, the dynamic between them is disturbingly clear. Sarah uses the queen to move forward her political agendas, but when Sarah’s cousin Abigail arrives seeking employment at the palace, a real power play takes shape and the characters are willing to go to any length to end up on top. Everything from murder attempts to sexual favors ensue and it devolves into complete chaos. I found myself waiting for each new scene with bated breath, wondering what disaster was coming next.
While the escalating rivalry is hard to digest, Lanthimos provides a refreshing portrayal of the female protagonists in which each woman operates in a male-dominated world, but they are far from controlled by it. Weisz, Colman, and Stone give commanding performances and elevate the film in a way that makes their award nominations seem inevitable.

In true Lanthimos form, the painful power play proves that there is no “winning” at this game. Say what you will about the way he chooses to communicate the fruitlessness of using other human beings to achieve your own goals, it is effective. Combined with power house performances, visual achievements, and a genius screenplay, Lanthimos deserves to be regarded as one of the master filmmakers working today, whether you want to stomach his unconventional storytelling is up to you.

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