LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE FAVOURITE (2018)
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Produced by: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday, Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
Cast: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn
Cinematography: Robbie Ryan
**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**
The London Film Festival organisers were very keen to impress we keep our phones off during the screening of The Favourite. Thus, I infer that the filmmakers are also keen that no spoilers are given away; something I will respect during this review. From the marketing blurb I have culled online, The Favourite: “sees Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster (2015), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)) on rollicking, virtuoso form with Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz revelling in the wit of his 18th century royal court life.”
Unlike The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Lanthimos is not working from an original screenplay he wrote with Efthymis Filippou; instead he’s taken an adaptation by Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis. Conversely, it is not as eccentric a premise as those previous films and structurally it is actually quite conventional. The story itself sets Rachel Weisz’ Duchess of Marlborough as advisor to Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne in the early 1700s; while Emma Stone’s fallen “Lady” enters the fray and attempts to gain the Queen’s favour while usurping Weisz’ character.
Historical films relating to Machiavellian scheming, sexual misadventure and political intrigue are legion. Dangerous Liaisons (1988), A Royal Affair (2012) and the recent Love and Friendship (2016) are but a few examples; however, none of them are as absurd, surprising, funny, moving and as crazy as The Favourite. But, this is not a parody of period dramas. Instead, Lanthimos brings his own directorial vision to the story with his often ludicrous switches in tone, while skilfully maintaining a strong emotional balance and intrigue throughout. His use of the fish-eye lens creates a distorted effect making the characters seem trapped by their surroundings and circumstances. Furthermore, the lighting is quite wonderful too with natural and candle light dominating the proceedings.
Lanthimos’ direction of his three stellar leading actors is superb; with Olivia Colman delivering one of the most memorable performances of the year. Her Queen Anne is both pathetic and empathetic at the same time. Anne is to be pitied, laughed at and laughed with throughout. While I genuinely have little sympathy for royal figures, Anne is humanized with great power by the performance. Preying and manipulating her are Weisz’ and Stone’s characters. Weisz’ is, in particular, quite brilliant as we never quite know if her decisions regarding the war against Spain and the increased taxes are to benefit her or the Queen. Moreover, I know Stone won an Oscar for La La Land (2016), but she is even better in this film. Her eyes light up at each devilish choice her character makes; revelling in the skulduggery as ambition fuels her desires. I must add that Nicholas Hoult is quite brilliant too in a supporting role.
Overall, The Favourite (2018) may not be appreciated by those who prefer their period dramas to be played straight, as it were. The language and behaviour of the characters is often foul and crude but while seeming anachronistic it is paradoxically authentic too. Lanthimos’ interpretation of the screenplay is rather complex. He seeks to humanize, satirize and ridicule life in the Royal Court but without us ever hating the characters. The narrative asks for understanding but also critiques their choices. You kind of wish Weisz and Stone would show some solidarity but ultimately they are narcissistic players craving power, much to the detriment of their sickly Queen — portrayed by the astounding Olivia Colman.