In the early 18th century, England is at war with the French and Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) has throbbing calves and emotional insecurity. The story was written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, the first script that Lanthimos has directed without writing himself. But it’s also the historical truth of a monarch and the bitter rivalry between two cousins for the title of court favourite.
The Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) is the Queen’s most immediate companion. She’ll be the one to advise against badger-looking makeup (more common than you might think) and to remind Anne that the war isn't actually over yet. The pair live in harmony, sharing advice and kisses in secret while keeping the country in check. When Sarah's cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, their balance is compromised. It's a universally acknowledged truth that three is crowd, but it's never looked like so much fun.
Emma Stone dons a prim British accent and a fantastic frivolity as Abigail in The Favourite
Lanthimos directs his period piece with childlike frivolity, but without ever losing the sharp confidence that characterises his work. The members of royalty spit insults and matter-of-fact praise at each other with lucid judgement; Nicholas Hoult's scathing Robert Harley acknowledges that 'a man must look pretty', while the women are described by their 'cute ears' and called pretty, outraged, tasty and salty in turn. Let's not forget the first time in history that we've acknowledged the term 'cuntstruck', too.
The three women share the limelight, in a refreshing instance where a 'strong female character' isn't a novelty buzzword or an act of tokenism in a man's world. Here, 'strong' allows Anne, Sarah and Abigail to be impulsive, ridiculous, pathetic, lustful and vulnerable all at the same time. The dynamic constantly shifts to keep the story feeling fresh, as friendship makes way for desire and polite loyalty quickly fades in favour of juvenile revenge. It's clever and makes sense to also let the men in this story toy with traditional displays of vanity and control, letting them chase after a woman's affection and wear just as much makeup too.
The Favourite is at once familiar and completely fresh as a Yorgos Lanthimos film. There's less nightmarish fatalism, no one bleeding out from their eyes or inexplicably turning into a wolf. This means the story is susceptible to moments of quiet, where the audience must sit through history which doesn't always comply with the conditions of a consistently entertaining dystopia.
But in the seesawing emotions of the monarchy, delivered with career-best versatility from the trifecta of engaging women, there's a newfound gravity that increases the credibility of Lanthimos' comedy. This is a history lesson as much as a crown jewel of high-profile performances, proving that there is great strength in the courting of a woman's heart.
Reviewed at the 2018 London Film Festival. The Favourite will be released in UK cinemas on 1 January 2019.
|What||The Favourite film review|
01 Jan 19 – 01 Jan 20, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinemas|
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