‘Sometimes a lady likes to have some fun.’
Director Yorgos Lanthimos is best known by filmy types for Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015) and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (2017). This is his most mainstream film yet, yet it is also a film that retains everything he is best known for. This is a cynical comedy that bites, as comic as it is tragic. An absolute delight to watch and the perfect film to start the new year with. We are not worthy.
England, 1708. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) sits on the throne, although she shows little interest in actually governing. Instead her adviser, confident and secret lover Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) is the one who really runs things. She uses the Queen’s confident to run the country, keeping a degree of control over Anne that is constantly being undermined by Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult). When Sarah’s distant cousin, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) comes to the Court looking for employment, she’s given a position of a scullery maid. But it would appear that a thirst for power runs in the family…
One important thing to address is the fact that this isn’t your standard period drama. Film Twitter has been logging various walkouts occurring, with audience members apparently walking out in disgust. Whilst the film looks like a gorgeous period drama (which it is) it is decidedly unique. Or, put another way, it is very Lanthimonsian. The c-bomb is dropped multiple times (with the creation of the adjective ‘Cuntstruck’ being the best usage of the word since ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’). Characters regularly exchange explicit insults. The BBFC warn of ‘strong sex’.
But the important distinction to be made is the very reason Lanthimos is so well-regarded as a director, never are any of these elements without purpose or function. There isn’t a single one of these moments that is used for audience voyeurism or titillation. These moments are used to aid the tone or characterisation. And what a bunch of characters he has.
He has some of Britain’s, and one American, giving truly phenomenal performances. Colman’s performance is the one that is currently getting the most recognition, unsurprising as it just so extraordinary. During the press tour she explained that finding out that Queen Anne had lost 17 children allowed her to access her as a character. This is more than apparent in her performance. There’s a brokenness, an ache from an unfathomable degree of tragedy in her every move and every look. A hauntedness that cannot be shaken off, even during brief moments of happiness. She plays off wonderfully against Weisz, there’s a natural rapport between them that makes the relationship between the pair so utterly believable.
Weisz’s role is arguably the harder one, less obvious and with more inner than outer moments. It’s complex and rather brilliant. As is Stone. Her comedic prowess is known to anyone who has seen ‘Easy A’ – now imagine that served with calculated scheming and manipulation. It is an incredible joy to watch the trio of incredible actress deliver such impeccable performances. Their characters are each warrior women, of a kind. They live is an era in which they are second class citizens, each enduring trauma of a kind yet remaining truly formidable and powerful. The depths of their performances, combined with a script that is pitch-perfect in terms of dark comedy (think Barry Lyndon meets Love and Friendship but with a 15 rating) instantaneously cement this film’s modern classic status.
A brief mention also has to go to Nicholas Hoult for providing one of the definition of a best supporting actor performance. His screen time is less than the central trio, yet he’ makes the most of each moment. He’s utterly captivating and totally scene-stealing.
Like the film overall, a total and immensely wicked joy to watch.
The Favourite is in UK cinemas from January 1st 2019.