Greek weirdo Yorgos Lanthimos, whose off-kilter thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer divided and provoked us a year ago, brings us The Favourite, a wild dramatisation of the power games surrounding Queen Anne’s bedchamber in the early 18th century. It’s his first feature on which neither he nor his usual partner Efthymis Filippou is credited as a writer, and that might account for its liveliness compared to his previous work, which tends to offer significant downtime in which the audience can ponder what it’s seeing. The Favourite moves rapidly and fluidly, the shifting dynamics between Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz’s Lady Marlborough, and Emma Stone’s Abigail Hill constantly exciting, with their plans always subject to change depending on who knows what about others. And on top of the intrigue, it’s really, really funny.
The Favourite offers us a brilliantly cast and even more brilliantly performing female trio, picking on a rare historical moment in which all the most important and influential people were women. (The men are all secondary, made physical jokes of, with their extravagant costumes and makeup outdoing the women’s.) Sex is always on the table and made to mean different things to different people: to Marlborough and Abigail it’s a tool to be used to manipulate and control the Queen, to whom it offers intimacy and emotional satisfaction she deeply craves and is allowed to feel she doesn’t deserve. The film doesn’t offer titillation, nor does it wish to shock or surprise with its depictions of sex or even the concept of the lesbian relationships. It’s actually quite remarkable how the film so casually avoids making it superficial and gratuitous.
We take our time to appreciate the cinematography, extraordinary wide-angle and occasionally fisheye shots that render characters, particularly the Queen, tiny playthings in a ludicrously ostentatious doll’s house. Mike remarks upon the way status is conferred by placing characters above and below each other and shooting at extreme angles to emphasise; José picks up on the costuming and its relationship to gender, mentioning in particular his admiration for Nicholas Hoult’s self-effacing, generous performance as Robert Harley, impressed by his willingness to make himself a feminised figure of fun.
There’s so much more we loved and we’re effusive throughout the podcast. And again. It’s a really, really, really, really, very very funny film indeed.
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With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.