By: Kate Olivares
Warning: this review contains mild spoilers for the film!
In true Yorgos Lanthimos style, The Favourite is batshit crazy. As he also directed The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer — two films that fuel my nightmares to this day — I was very pleased to see him take on a period piece. With the general constraints this well-trodden genre entails, his frenzied madness in The Favourite was restrained in favour of some plot and character development.
This film centres around Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) fighting to be Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) closest confidante and top courtier. Each with distinct and coherent motivation, they deceive, manipulate, and seduce their way to getting what they want (whatever that may be).
In a film with three protagonists, The Favourite does an excellent job with balancing each perspective, letting these characters engage in rambunctious power-plays while keeping the audience in suspense. The movie deals with lust, greed, pain, and the best unexpected dance sequence since Ex Machina.
The techniques it uses to convey its themes are superb. The cinematography is lush and innovative, effectively using a fisheye lens to illustrate the distorted world of the Queen’s court and highlight the audience’s position as flies on the wall throughout the story. The set design of Queen Anne’s castle is both divine and creepy, emphasizing the duality of the grandeur the court tries to maintain and the twisted reality unfolding behind closed doors.
Most importantly, however, the performances make the intricate tonal balance of the film come together spectacularly. What a wonderful experience it is to be able to watch women do what they want to do.
That being said, there are some exciting elements of the story that I really hoped the film explored more, namely: sex. It introduced sex as a fascinating tool to exchange power, freedom, and defiance against the stifling society of 18th-century royalty. Comparing Lanthimos’s past films, he seems completely fine with showing a dead dog on frame for 10 seconds or an uncut scene depicting graphic murder, but when it comes to adult women having consensual sex with each other, the camera pans away.
Period pieces have long been a part of the prestige indies and Academy Awards conversation. The Favourite includes all of this genre’s usual traits: English war, monarchy, and political upheaval. However, Lanthimos adds absurdity, a refreshingly fast pace, and most exciting of all, three female characters at the lead — each one vivacious, bold, and distinct. Not only does this pass the Bechdel test, expanding female representation in film, but when was the last time a period piece was this fun?
The Favourite is currently showing in limited theatres around the Lower Mainland.