The Favourite deliciously balances courtly politics, devious deceit and sexual jealousy with dark humour. Yorgos Lanthimos is a director that does not hide any aspects to his films. If it's unusual, explicit or perhaps even downright mad, he will show it. Audibly separating himself from Hollywood manufactured creations that would never dare to take such bold risks. Whilst The Favourite might be his most accessible film to date, it is certainly his funniest and most sumptuous. During the War of the Spanish Succession, two cousins attempt to convince Queen Anne to be the court favourite. However it soon spirals out of control and turns into a deadly game of jealousy.
Three powerfully inclined women that boast complex mental states. Writer Davis is almost a puppeteer, pulling at the strings of these characters. Each one horrendously unlikeable, whether it be Anne's inexplicable childish behaviour or Abigail's ruthless goal to no longer be impoverished. You dislike them, yet Davis' ingenious screenplay allows you to sympathise with them. They each have experienced sorrow and it is soon revealed that these characters are tragically broken. Their bonds are tested through viperous actions of lust, envy and greed. One spoken word could change your view immediately. One heinous act, particularly purposefully crushing a rabbit, could make you almost indefinitely despise a character you once thought to be the protagonist. It's not a story with grand gestures and lavish plot devices. It's entirely character driven. The subtle twists and turns that further the plot, come from these three sexually ambiguous women who would do anything for power. Lanthimos, whilst still embedding his signature surrealism, never goes over the top or makes the story abundantly dark (unlike 'The Killing of a Sacred Deer'). It remains grounded and Davis' unflinching humour adds that extra depth of ill-mannered politics. Five minutes in a frivolous Hoult exclaims the worst expletive possible in a high-pitched voice. It was from that moment I knew I was watching a Lanthimos feature. The unwavering sense of boldness.
The majority of acclaim that this film has already garnered is towards its three leading performances. I can categorically say now, these are career bests from all these actresses. Stone flawlessly pulled off a British accent and held your attention through falsified innocence. Weisz enigmatically remained captivating with an assured performance that explored the lengths one would go for Queen and country. However it's Colman that steals every scene. Predominantly a TV actress, she was absolutely sensational in this picture and translated to the big screen outstandingly, proving she is one of the best actresses working today. The change in character from a stubborn child to a commanding Queen, which can happen in a split second, was exceptional. The additional layer of melancholy and desire for attention was conveyed simply through Colman's facial expressions. A performance that quite simply deserves any and all awards. Even supporting cast members Hoult, Alwyn and Gatiss were excellent. But the praise doesn't stop there, oh no. Ryan's cinematography was gorgeous and presented 18th Century Britain with style and vigour. The inclusion of natural lighting also enhanced the authentic style that Ryan was able to capture. The use of fisheye and wide lenses enabled the characters to feel claustrophobic in the large room that is shown, capturing every detail within the luscious production design. The mixture of classical pieces from Vivaldi and Bach with modern composers allowed Lanthimos' contemporary filmmaking to intertwine with the period setting. Also the costumes were beautifully designed, particularly the royal dresses.
It's a two hour film, and occasionally it can be felt. The political subplot regarding a battalion in the war and bringing in state taxes was underdeveloped. Understandably the focus is on the behind-the-scenes of these courtly politics, however it never truly feels captivating. Consequently these various scenes allows the pace to dip. Fortunately the proceeding scenes shifts the focus back onto the favourites, with the rapid pace resuming. At first, I was not keen on its conclusion. It left me wanting more. But actually it was incredibly powerful and full of purpose, further asserting the Queen's power. Oh, also loved the chapter title cards. Found them to be rather humorous. In the end, The Favourite nobly presents love, honour and power through jealousy, deceit and manipulation. Proving that Lanthimos is not just a director, but an auteur filmmaker who is here to stay.