Saturday 12 January 2019

The Favourite

The Favourite

This is a world away from the usual po-faced, stuffy period dramas. The Favourite is a playful film that distorts the tropes of the genre into something quite unexpected. But then, if you're familiar with the work of director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster especially), you'll have some idea of what you're getting into.

His style is utterly idiosyncratic. High seriousness is juxtaposed with black comedy. Period elements are undercut by modernism. A dance scene sees characters practically voguing to Baroque music. The high stakes manipulation of nobility and royalty plays out in a contemporary script full of swearing. The male characters are sidelined and effeminate; here it's the women who hold power.

Yet for all its comedic moments - and there are plenty - Lanthimos blindsides you with darkness, seriousness, thoughtfulness. The Favourite is a film that toys with you. Lanthimos takes great liberty with history, layers on the eccentricity, then pulls you in a different direction to offer a stern lesson in love and servitude. It's a remarkable, twisted, psychological film.

At the centre is Queen Anne, in a fabulously childlike turn from Olivia Colman, all petulance and impulsiveness. She is served by Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), to advise her, to love her, to relieve her gout. Sarah soon has competition in the form of her cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) and the two women vie for the queen's affections and favour. The screenplay, written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, is full of deliciously snide comments and manipulations, particularly in the shooting scenes. The performances of all three women are stunning, despite Colman leading the film - they are powerful equals to the detriment of the male characters (Nicholas Hoult aside as Robert Harley).

The setting, too, is exquisite. Filmed at Hatfield House and Hampton Court Palace, the camera luxuriates in the fine details of the homes and costumes. The bizarre circus of the court is filmed through low angle shots and sweeping fish eye that only emphasises its grandeur and the status of these women. The tension between them fizzes and the music - a mix of Baroque and modern composers in a reflection of the film's tone - rises and falls in parallel.

The film does eventually run out of steam and the sombre ending arrives quite suddenly. Despite its comedy, this is far from uplifting - but anyone anticipating a happy ending has come to the wrong place.

The Favourite is Lanthimos' most mainstream film, his unique style - and a lesbian romance no less - making waves and winning awards. It's weird, divisive and features spectacular performances; together it's the best kind of madness.


Watch: The Favourite is out now.