I will fully confess to being a Yorgos Lanthimos groupie. The only feature film of his that I haven’t watched yet is Alps (2011), and I plan to remedy that as soon as possible. I’ll admit, however, that when I heard his latest film was going to be a period piece, it gave me pause. I was even more hesitant when I read reviews calling The Favourite his “most accessible” film yet. I wasn’t sure how Lanthimos’ unique perspective and style would translate into a non-A24, English-language release, and for that I should apologize. To doubt that Lanthimos would put his signature spin on the genre would be to doubt his creative integrity. In less dramatic terms, The Favourite captivated me far more than I thought it would.
The film chronicles the relationship between Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her advisor/confidant/lover Sarah (Rachel Weisz), a Duchess. While Queen Anne suffers from gout and depression over her seventeen miscarriages (each represented by a pet rabbit), Sarah uses her influence over the Queen to enact policies she believes to be favorable. Enter Abigail (Emma Stone), Sarah’s younger cousin, who longs to return to the higher ranks after her father gambled away the family’s wealth and reputation. The relationship between Sarah and Abigail rapidly sours, as the latter realizes that she can leverage her position as Sarah’s lady-in-waiting to gain favor with the Queen. What results is a hilarious yet moving film about relationships among women and the corrupting influence of power.
I fully expected Colman and Weisz to shine, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Stone held her own and showed exactly why she is one of the most sought-after actors of today. Nicholas Hoult also surprisingly stole several scenes as Robert Harley, Sarah’s primary antagonist. He delivered some of the funniest lines of the film with glee, shifting from jovial to menacing and back again with ease. Joe Alwyn rounds out the cast, and though his role was small, he’s a participant in my favorite scene of the movie, which finds him dancing in an ahistorical and seemingly interpretive fashion with Weisz. Make no mistake though–the women of The Favourite dominate in a way rarely seen in Hollywood, and they have fun doing it.
The aforementioned dancing scene, among many others throughout the film, reassures viewers that although The Favourite has had the most commercial appeal of Lanthimos’ projects to date, it has, at its core, the unique charm and perspective that made its director a star. Complete with duck racing, beauty marks that slowly become bigger and more elaborate, colorful wigs, and naked men being pelted by oranges, the movie is full of the oddities that his fans have come to expect.
Like all of Lanthimos’ films, The Favourite gets dark, and those hoping for a happy ending probably won’t leave the theater satisfied. But the film is far more than a simple battle between two women with a winner and a loser, a good person versus a bad one–it is an exploration of the meaning of loyalty and love and a condemnation of our tendency to judge a book by its cover.
With a cast led by incredible actresses and a script co-written by a woman, The Favourite shows exactly why the film industry benefits greatly from allowing stories by and about women to come to life. My one complaint however, would be that like other English-language Lanthimos films, its cast lacks diversity. With so many incredible, compelling actors of color out there, there is little excuse for Lanthimos and his crew to continue with all-white leads. That being said, The Favourite will definitely go down as one of my top films of the year, and I am glad that it has been receiving an abundance of praise (especially because Colman hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar yet). I thought no Lanthimos film could unseat The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) as my number one, but The Favourite might have lived up to its title after all.
Gender Representation: ★★★★★
Overall Quality: ★★★★☆