The Favourite, 2018.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.
Featuring Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult, Mark Gatiss, and James Smith.
18th century England. A sickly Queen Anne (Colman) has her closest friend and confidant, Lady Sarah (Weisz), mostly governing the country for her. But when new servant Abigail (Stone) starts to threaten the pair’s relationship, Lady Sarah looks to consolidate her hold on the crown any way she can.
Fans of Yorgos Lanthimos’s past work will know exactly what they’re getting themselves in for here, but for the uninitiated: don’t expect a high-brow regal drama. As pretty much the self-appointed ‘Master of Uncomfortable Black Humour’, Lanthimos seems to regularly go out of his way to make films that are dark, troubling and hilariously slapstick in equal measure, often all at the same time. And while it’s definitely true that The Favourite very much falls into this camp, odd fisheye lenses and occasional bouts of nastiness included, it’s also easily the director’s most accessible comedy by quite some distance.
The delivery here is just as dry and wit-driven as something like Love & Friendship, but with all the over-the-top vulgarity of something much raunchier, and stands as proof that the classical farce hasn’t been completely killed by the likes of Adam Sandler. Yes, it still comes with all the historical bite and maddening extravagance of pre-Georgian English monarchy (with the camerawork to match), but Lanthimos has never been one to let a good ‘cunt’ joke pass by; he’s like an arthouse Iannucci, forever straddling that very fine line between high and low art, and having a bloody good time while doing it.
Although, the genius of The Favourite’s comedy isn’t entirely down to Lanthimos and his writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara alone. So much works as well as it does because the trio of leads refuse to see any of the drama or comedy as one note. Emma Stone’s rags-to-riches transformation is the backbone of the plot, and her and Rachel Weisz’s spitting rivalry definitely gives off some of the year’s best back-and-forths. But the dare-we-say favourite is an Olivia Colman performance nothing short of Oscar-worthy.
At first, her classically royal tantrums might seem a little too on the nose, but the longer you spend with Colman’s Queen Anne, the more you start to trace back the method to the madness. It’s a subtle reveal; Lanthimos stuffs the “oh shit” moments right down deep enough so you have to really look for them, but the sum is quite spectacular. It’s easily one of the most tragic and quietly measured turns of the year, and one that gives the film the serious depth it well and truly needs to ground its comedy.
All-in, The Favourite is a beautifully singular piece of work, just nuts enough to only ever come from a mind like Lanthimos’s, but pitched well below the blackness of The Lobster, making for a genuinely entertaining (and not particularly harsh) watch. An all-rounder that capitalises on the petulance and vulgarity of one of history’s most fascinating periods, and leans in to its silliness in a very deliberate way.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Ben Robins // @BMLRobins