Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Olivia Colman, Nicholas Hoult, James Smith, and Mark Gatiss
At a recent birthday party, I watched two young little girls vie for the affection and attention of the birthday girl. With a temporary crown, that was bedazzled with costume jewels, the birthday princess sauntered from activity to activity with the two little girls in tow. The two girls fiercely competed for attention from the young birthday princess at each activity, pushing and pulling their way towards the side of the honored guest.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos has helmed some impressively unique features in the past few years, tackling interesting subject matter with keen visual perspective and a distinctive sensibility to story structure. “The Favourite”, a career highlight for the Greek director, is a bitingly dark costume comedy about royal affairs, prestige, politics, hierarchy, and the morally abrasive manners that compose the quest for power in the 1700’s.
Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), a freewheeling yet distracted monarch of the British throne, lives a life trapped in the rigors of the controlling patriarch and the long-lasting tradition that defines but also besets royalty. Anne is surrounded by men in ever-growing white wigs, staff who wait on her every ridiculous request, and lives in a residence that is lavishly composed with shining décor from the floors to the ceiling. Anne’s only friend, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), provides the primary directives as it concerns the affairs of the state and consistently keeps Anne composed at parties and in the ruling court. Lady Sarah is clearly in control until her distant relative Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives and paves her own path towards some kind of power.
Taking a moment from the royal ruling history of the Queen of Great Britain, Mr. Lanthimos and writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara compose a fictionalized costume drama that fits all the realms familiar with a period piece film. From the tragic nature of Shakespearean content to the prim and proper appeal of the Baroque perspective, “The Favourite” fashions a film that accepts and twists perceptions of these specific genre of film. While it honors the designs of the time, with flaring white wigs and ornate costumes, it also deliberately pokes fun at the tradition associated with them. Mr. Lanthimos unveils the nastier side of the moral code that typically defines the characters in these films as well; cheeky language, blatant sexual insinuation, and cold-blooded motivations exist throughout every angle of the film. The wolves are faintly dressed as sheep throughout the film.
The composition of the environments is beautifully arranged. The wide-angle lenses distort the reality of the world, consistently reminding the viewer that the vision they are watching is purposefully askew. The photography is a mix of overwhelming frames filled with the superficial decadence of design and, more impressive, the subtle structure of the what is lurking in the shadows and what is illuminated by flickering flames. It adds an element of unease at times, especially when the director meticulously holds on long frames of character’s faces. It’s captivating and thoughtfully ordered.
The performances are some of the best of the year. Olivia Colman is exceptional as Queen Anne; her petulant nature, shrieking voice, desperate looks, and tearful pleads compose a character that is trapped and lonely. Ms. Colman impressively yields to the composition of becoming an “easy target” for her two closest “friends”. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone compete and bicker with amusing flair, their chemistry is palpable the moment Abigail wanders into the royal quarters slathered in mud. For these two actresses it is more than verbal jabs, it’s the way they position their bodies, the way they gaze with a composition of emotions with just a singular look.
“The Favourite” is a sometimes bleak but completely comic demonstration of the lengths people will go to be accepted and the motivations they will embrace to achieve power. It’s frustrating, it’s hilarious, and it’s one of the best films of Yorgos Lanthimos intriguing career.
4.50 out of 5.00