REVIEW: The Favourite

The killing of a favourite lobster tooth.

Occupying the throne, the frail Queen Anne falls dependent on her confident, Lady Sarah, until a new servant, Abigail, surfaces with a charm enabling her to steal away the eye of the Queen through unconventional means.

From Greek filmmaker, Yorgos Lanthimos, a spearhead of the Greek Weird Wave movement currently occurring in cinema, The Favourite is an aristocratic tragedy which bathes in its absurdist comedy, amounting to an almost Shakespearean-like experience, standing out from the crowd. A subtly dramatic shift in tone and visual style from his previous work, but also a film for which his earlier projects promised he would one day create; Yorgos Lanthimos seemingly utilised The Favourite to move away from his obscure routes in Greek Weird Wave cinema to instead amount his talents to a project rather odd and separate compared to the rest of his filmography. The Favourite was a weird film, do not get me wrong, but it was weird for its own separate reasons, unlike Lanthimos’ other work.

Now, in all honesty, I have never seen Dogtooth for which has been on my watchlist ever since I saw The Lobster, back in 2015, although I have greatly been a fan of Lanthimos’ ‘out-there’ cinematic perspective since my screening of The Lobster, oh those few years ago. I recall a friend of mine having randomly bought a ticket to The Lobster at a film festival in 2015, to which, after seeing said film, he immediately unloaded every detail of his experience watching the film and how he considered it his favourite feature of that year. Pumped, I saw the film on the day of its official release, only to leave the screening with disappointment, purely because I was a bit annoyed that I had no clue what any of it meant. So, instead of shunning the movie, I saw it a second time and now I own The Lobster on DVD and am still fascinated with it till this day. In 2017, when Lanthimos’ next project was released, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I bought the first ticket to the first screening and loved the film immensely upon first viewing. I still consider The Killing of Sacred Deer easily one of my favourite films of 2017 and possibly my favourite film of Lanthimos’. So, now that you’re up to date, you can imagine my feelings heading into The Favourite.

At first, I was skeptical. I’ve never much enjoyed these more aristocratic-type films and was worried that Lanthimos’ style would be squashed in favour of making an Oscar season-friendly, English royals-type darling, purely to showcase acting performances. And when I heard Lanthimos had not even taken part in the screenwriting process, as he had done with all his previous work, I was most worried that The Favourite would be a complete stepdown from his previous work entirely. Yet, that was not the case.

(Channel 4, 2018)

I could not say that I loved The Favourite as I did with The Killing of a Sacred Deer or found myself endlessly fascinated with it like I had been with The Lobster, but I did come out of the cinema satisfied with Lanthimos’ newest effort nonetheless. The Favourite was really different than Lanthimos’ other works, but not entirely as you could still see the filmmaker’s certain ticks and flavourings shine through. True, as I said, The Favourite showed a shift in Lanthimos as a filmmaker, through visual style and tone, but as I also said, this film felt like a logical next step for the filmmaker to take in his career.

After the absurdity of his previous films, The Favourite was by far Lanthimos’ most tame project yet. The film felt more subtle and relied on obscure visuals and a murkier tone to capture a more adult feeling to the film’s proceedings. And sure Lanthimos’ previous works were all very adult, but there was a sense of rebellious childishness and immaturity to his previous films that was not felt in The Favourite – at least not entirely. The Favourite felt more grown up – more lean and unwavering. I honestly do believe the film felt like a discarded Shakespeare play with its claustrophobic small handful of sets and its ability to balance the light and the dark; seeking a sweet point between the comedy and the tragedy.

The Favourite was an extremely funny film – one of the most comical of 2018. The humour delivered in the performances of Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult and an outstanding Olivia Colman all really made this film pop more than it ever could have imagined to. And also, I felt it was in the humour where Lanthimos’ deadpan style shun through the hardest – for the filmmaker’s trademark absurdity existed predominately in the film’s grade A comedy. Although, as most know, the best comedy comes as a result of tragedy and the reason I felt The Favourite worked so well was because of the undeniable void of darkness that withered from within it.

The Favourite took place during a scarcely unreported time of history allowing for a shadow of doubt and curiosity to plague the narrative of the film. A war between the English and the French raged in the background of The Favourite‘s entire runtime as every character seemingly reaped the horrors of said catastrophe through death and the economy. The Favourite existed in a nightmarish, barely dream-like, field of tragic ambiguity that allowed the film to absorb a sense of melancholy to fuel it’s proceedings. As I said, the film felt claustrophobic, and not just because of its sets, but also because of the cinematography as well. The way the camera would adopt a fisheye effect to enclose the viewer in the Court of Queen Anne, as if at the mercy of a unstable, unpredictable ruler, made the drama oh-so more intimate. To add to that, the way the camera would sit at low-angle shots during moments of conversation between characters would really work to belittle the audience; make us, the viewers, uncomfortable, forced to look up at the royals, as if we were the peasants – the lower life scum.

And from within this angst the audience was made to feel, Lanthimos subjected viewers to the cruelest of tragedies in order to service the levity of the comedy. A prime example of comedy shining through tragedy in The Favourite would have to be the troubled psychosis of the unpredictable ruler and protagonist of the film’s narrative, Queen Anne. Not only performed flawlessly by Olivia Colman, Queen Anne exists as a source of great humour for the audience during The Favourite, seen especially through her various play dates with her bunny rabbits. And although the sequences she spent with her pets appeared all well and good for some solid humour, its what the rabbits represented that made the humour more crisp and bitter. Anne’s continuous depressive state and her inability to perform mundane tasks without the help of her “favourite”, begun to eventually align with the revelation of her mourning for the apparent seventeen children she once carried. And when Anne’s common phrase for the rabbits was spoken again, the term “children” took on a double meaning.

The Favourite, in my mind, was a film that had mastered the double meaning; the ability to intertwine comedy with tragedy and understand balance in its truest form. Funnily enough, the original draft script for The Favourite in 1998 was titled, “The Balance of Power”, and I felt Lanthimos’ end product had ensnared that concept in some very fine ways. The film did indeed observe the balance of power, but more intricately, a power struggle. Whilst the male characters bickered and played with ducks in the background, it was the women in The Favourite whom deceivingly pulled the strings with a three way reach for strength and absolution. True that I noted how Queen Anne was this film’s protagonist, but like the struggle at the film’s centre, The Favourite very much belonged to three separate avenues, one being Colman but the other two being the impeccable Weisz and Stone.

The Favourite was a movie that felt very off kilter and not just because of its cinematography and tone but also its unnerving score. The film made it so to usher in a sense of uneasiness, like something bad was about to happen at any moment during the runtime… but nothing extremely bad ever did. The Favourite would play with the idea of true horror but would resist and instead reside in the nightmarish world it had already crafted for itself. Slightly off centre and not quite aligned with a true historical account, but feeling as real as modern day life with a twist.

I really liked The Favourite – I thought it was extremely bitter and rather arch. I loved Rachel Weisz, absolutely adored Emma Stone (in fact, this may be my favourite performance of hers, even though I loved La La Land) and Olivia Colman, again, really knocked it out of the park in this film. I enjoyed seeing Lanthimos doing something a bit different compared to his other work, although I would not go so far to say The Favourite was a crowning achievement for the director. If anything, this movie felt a bit too long as I believed it made it’s point around midway through and then tended to drag its feet ever-so slightly to its finale. I very much did mean to applaud the obscure cinematography, although I personally did not like some shots, and all-in-all I honestly just did not feel The Favourite was as a strong feature as Lanthimos’ previous work. The Favourite saw Lanthimos lose some of his threatening unpredictability to which made his other films so daring, debatable and special.

The Favourite may not be my “favourite” of Lanthimos’ work, but it was a fine piece of cinema that suitably seethed and withered within historical nightmares.

The Favourite is a bloody… CRUSADE!!


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2 thoughts on “REVIEW: The Favourite

  1. Great review! This is now my third Lanthimos movie and I have felt similar feelings towards all three. The concept has been brilliant, the performances incredible and they’re all movies I’ll never forget – but I can never work out if I actually loved them or not!

    Liked by 1 person

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