By Steven Sheehan.
If you are not a fan of arthouse cinema, the name Yorgos Lanthimos may not mean much to you. He’s a Greek director known for surreal films such as Dogtooth, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
Lanthimos is a director actor’s love to work with, even if mainstream audiences do not. Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, John C. Reilly and Rachel Weisz have all appeared in his films to date.
The Favourite is a complete change of pace and his most accessible film to date. It looks set to pick up an award or two at the Oscars and will push Lanthimos into the commercial spotlight.
Emma Stone, Olivia Colman and Nicolas Hoult are the latest stars to be cast by the director. Weisz also returns in a tale about nasty royal-court intrigue and skulduggery.
Set in the 18th century, Colman is Queen Anne and Weisz her close friend Lady Sarah, the one really pulling the power strings in the palace. England is at war with France and political tensions are high.
Anne is in ill health and Sarah suffers her wild mood swings. The arrival of new servant Abigail (Stone) threatens to change the dynamics of Anne and Sarah’s relationship.
Soon enough Abigail is climbing the ranks within the palace and quickly becomes the Queen’s new companion. She was once a lady and is determined to regain her status no matter what it takes.
If you are not a fan of costume dramas then you can safely leave that at the door with The Favourite.
Yes, the clothing and production design is stunning and what you’d expect of a film about this era. Shot in Hatfield House and Hampton Court the setting never feels anything but completely authentic.
But any hint of stuffiness ends there. There are Queens, Lords, Earls and Ladies, of course, but it’s far from all corsets and canapes.
There is some hilarious use of the c-word and the language is razor sharp and never boring or stuffy.
The three women at the centre of the drama are all superb and each could receive Oscar nominations next month.
Colman, in particular, is excellent as Queen Anne. Not only are her tantrums and mood swings hilarious, but her mental issues aren’t treated as a mere joke. She blends real pathos with the comedy, turning her into a tragic figure at the heart of the story.
Weisz is also fantastic in her role. Despite her steeliness and the hold she has over the Queen, your heart goes out to her by the end of the film.
The Favourite is based on the real lives of the three women, although it plays hard and fast with the facts. It’s a contemporary take on a historical period and even gives us a dance sequence with some funny modern-day moves.
There’s a lot to love about the film, and if you can’t enjoy the humour, you’ll be dazzled by the performances and the costumes on display.
It’s all a complete farce, of course, but it’s one that wants you to throw off your inhibitions to enjoy some serious mudslinging.
The Favourite opened in UK cinemas on January 1st 2019.