By turns visually ravishing and psychologically perverse, this salacious and morbidly hilarious period drama strangely doesn’t quite amount to anything significant.
Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
2018 | Ireland/UK | Drama/Comedy | 119 mins | 1.85:1 | English
R21 (passed clean) for strong sexual content, nudity and language
Cast: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz
Plot: In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.
Awards: Won Grand Jury Prize & Best Actress (Venice). Nom. for 10 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actress (x2), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Subject Matter: Darkly Comic/Perverse
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed in theatres)
Yorgos Lanthimos has gone from strength to strength since his outrageous arthouse breakthrough, Dogtooth (2009), reaching his highest point in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017). His latest, The Favourite, is a dip, not necessarily in form because it is a precisely calculated work intended to achieve what it had set out to do, but in overall viewing experience. The sum is certainly less than its parts here.
But it has very delicious parts indeed, assembled together by the touch of an accomplished artist and craftsman, where a mix of artistry (in the production design, costumes, mise-en-scene, etc.) and the technical (in the cinematography, particularly its generous use of whip pan-to-tracking shots, fisheye lenses, and instances of candlelight lighting) combine to produce a dynamic period piece that is almost like an antithesis to something like Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975).
“I like when she puts her tongue in me.”
If Kubrick’s film feels as if one has travelled back in time to inhabit its space naturally and psychologically, Lanthimos’ work is more about heading back in time with the mental state of the present. One could even say that The Favourite is psychologically anachronistic.
Perhaps the most striking example of this psychological anachronism lies in the character of Abigail, played by an alluring if amusing Emma Stone, whose large eyes, sniggering facial expressions and expressive body language give us a character who seems out of place and time.
Abigail is a new servant whose charm attracts the attention of the ailing Queen Anne (played by a brilliant Olivia Colman, who is one of the most underrated actresses of her generation—you’ve got to see her performance in Tyrannosaur (2011)). Despite being despised by Queen Anne’s close friend, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz in an understated role), Abigail seeks to win the trust and affection of the Queen.
“As it turns out, I’m capable of much unpleasantness.”
By turns visually ravishing and psychologically perverse, this salacious and morbidly hilarious film goes into dark pleasures of sex and lust, one-upwomanship and gender politics. Its razor-sharp and pitch-black dialogue, full of scathing remarks and witty sarcasms, ought to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Despite the trio of fantastic performances, and Lanthimos doing what he does best, The Favourite strangely doesn’t quite amount to anything significant, with its anticlimactic ending not helping its cause.