The Favourite

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos.
Screenplay: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara.
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Mark Gatiss, Joe Alwyn, James Smith, LillyRose Stevens, Jennifer White.

“As it turns out, I’m capable of much unpleasantness”

Late in 2018, the Oxford English Dictionary announced that over a hundred film-related words and their names had all been turned into adjectives. Some of these included, “Lynchian”, “Tarantinoesque” and “Kubrickian” to describe the style in which these cinematic auteurs operate. Kubrickian, for example, is described as a “meticulous perfectionism, mastery of the technical aspects of film-making, and atmospheric visual style in films across a range of genres”. Since their inclusion, I think it’s fair to say that Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite is the first film that can officially use one of these nomenclatures as Lanthimos delivers an exquisite piece of work that looks and feels very much like something that Stanley Kubrick would’ve been proud of.

Plot: Chronically ill Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne in 18th century England, when her country is at war with the French. Her loyal counsel, Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) helps govern the country on her behalf but when new servant girl Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, the dynamics of their respective relationships change. Abigail begins to fill in as the Queen’s companion which creates a running feud between all three as the politics of war are replaced by politics at the palace.

Often when I think about period, costume dramas I think of marble-mouthed, over privileged aristocrats who instil me with an overwhelming dislike. I have absolutely nothing in common with the characters and their actions often leave me with a feeling of boredom. However, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite is a different beast and very far from boring. In fact, there’s such an abundance going on that it’s difficult to fully absorb in one sitting. Working from a script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite explores the power struggle of three women for different reasons and Lanthimos crafts a deliciously dark comedy that’s as biting a satire as you’re ever likely to find.

Where it finds it’s “Kubrickian” status, however, is in the meticulous detail that courses throughout the film. Every scene is a baroque work of art where Lanthimos dramatically emphasises vast, royal rooms and their elaborate ornamentation and yet plants such unsavoury characters within them. Kubrick juxtaposed the same in films like The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut which suggested an expanse and an abundance but also felt suffocating and claustrophobic. Another unashamed nod to Kubrick is Lanthimos’ decision to shoot many scenes in natural candlelight where it draws it’s biggest comparison to Kubrick and his own period piece, Barry Lyndon. These attributes wouldn’t be possible, however, without the stunning work of cinematographer Robbie Ryan and production designer Fiona Crombie. So wonderfully visual is the film that you could watch it with the sound down and still be captivated. Nevertheless, it’s in the dialogue that we are afforded most of the salacious humour with the three principal leads in Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz delivering with aplomb. The love triangle in which we are drawn is wickedly intelligent and each of these actresses own their roles with outstanding performances. Weisz and Stone are more commonly known but anyone familiar with Paddy Considine’s directorial debut Tyrannosaur in 2011 will be aware of the abilities of Olivia Colman. Shamefully, she was ignored for any awards recognition in that film but I struggle see how that can happen again here. Colman is an absolute powerhouse as Queen Anne and more than worthy of cleaning up this year. Also deserving of praise is an impressive Nicholas Hoult. Most of the male actors in this film fall into obscurity due to the energy that Colman, Stone and Weisz display but Hoult genuinely great and he’s really only upstaged by his monumentally large hairpiece. Well…. that and the “Wanking Man” and possibly the naked guy who gleefully smiles as he’s pelted with fruit and credited only as “Pomegranate Tory”. Who knows how much historical accuracy is actually depicted here during the reign of Queen Anne. Some might claim that it’s all nonsense but I’d wager that truth is stranger than fiction on this one. It’s seems entirely believable that the aristocracy would behave so bizarrely such is their petulant sense of privilege.

Every scene of The Favourite is filled with such beauty and intrigue that it culminates into a hugely immersive experience and despite taking no prisoners in its dark, satirical humour it also has an emotional core that resonates. It’s testament to Yorgos Lanthimos’ skill and stunning eye for detail that he’s able to hold such an offbeat and outlandish story together but that he does and, in the process, he delivers one of the very best films of year.

Mark Walker

Trivia: Kate Winslet was originally cast but dropped out and Rachel Weisz replaced her.

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16 Responses to “The Favourite”

  1. Oh, I am glad you liked it. I can’t wait to see it here. I have always been a great admirer of Rachel Weisz.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved it, Cindy. My expectations weren’t high beforehand though. It was one was of those films were I was sceptical about the praise it was receiving. Surely, it can’t be as good as many are saying. And it was! Absolutely Brilliant!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice review Mark. So here is a controversial thought: I may be one of the few in the film world who didn’t like The Favorite. I am a big fan of Yorgos Lanthimos, but the humor here felt broader than the dark sarcasm and ironic sadism of Sacred Deer and The Lobster, plus I think the subject matter of the British monarchy has been overdone today. I did think Olivia Colman gave a great performance, but unfortunately I was disappointed.

    Did you happen see this in a 35mm or digital projection? I caught it in DCP at a local AMC, and a lot of the shots looked overly grainy and saturated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry for the late reply, Charles.
      I have to say I’m surprised you didn’t got for this. I thought it was fantastic and, like I say in the review, it felt very much like Kubrick on show. You’re right in Lanthimos’ broader humour but it really worked for me. I also agree that monarchy is overdone today but this was a delightful twist on that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ha, no sweat! Trying to start writing up posts again (I’m working on a top 10 of 2018 at the moment), and it’s hard trying to get my feet running on blogging.

        I definitely heard a lot of comparisons between this and Barry Lyndon in terms of production value, but I don’t think the cinematography matches John Alcott’s neoclassical framing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Im the same, man. Trying to squeeze out the odd review and also working on my Top Ten. I’ve yet to see Roma and Widows though and I don’t think I can finalise it until I do.

        That aside, I did feel like the natural lighting was very much like John Alcott’s work, although I’ve admittedly yet to complete Barry Lyndon. I’m two-thirds of the way through.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, you’ve got to finish Barry Lyndon. Not only is it my favorite Kubrick movie, it may be my favorite movie ever.

        Yeah, I’m trying to see Beale Street before I write mine (though I regret missing A Bread Factory in theaters), but I did enjoy a lot of movies from this past year. Also, not to brag but I did get a chance to see Roma in 70mm and it looks amazing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I definitely will finish. Really loving it. I should stop putting it on so late at night, though. I remember it being high in your estimation that why I’m surprised you didn’t take to the Favourite.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review on one of my “favourite” films I saw in 2018. It was a such a brilliant and idiosyncratic ride throughout with great performances. My only desire was probably a less artistic and vague ending, however, it made sense given the style of filmmaker Lanthimos represents.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m with you, Paul. I’ve still to catch up with a few films yet but so far The Favourite is the best film of the year for me. I also really enjoyed the ending. I thought it absolutely fitting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The only thing I can criticise in The Favourite is the ending too. I actually criticised The Lobster on the same basis. I really think Lanthimos could do a bit better with his endings, and, nah, for me, artistic consideration is not an excuse there 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Well, more a reason or theory than excuse. I actually loved the tragedy of the ending of The Lobster; one is literally blinding oneself when in love. It is more open to interpretation than The Favourite’s ending. I can imagine the foreshadowed pistol duel between Weisz and Stones’ character may have been changed, but we’ll never know.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Great review. For me, The Favourite is the best film of the year. Full stop.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Sounds like a delightful movie I’d love to watch. I love periodic dramas very much and had my eye on The Favorite for a while now. I just wish I’d gotten to watch it on the big screen, but a quiet night of home watching will do! I probably would have never noticed the Kubrick attributes so thanks for the spot out. I love Kubrick’s work.

    Liked by 1 person

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