The historical drama has had a resurgence in the past few years, with the success of shows like The Crown and films like Love and Friendship, a genre that was previously relegated to Oscar bait or entertainment for seniors is now receiving critical acclaim. he latest person to tackle this genre, Yorgos Lanthimos of Dogtooth and The Killing of a Sacred Deer fame, has decided to take a somewhat fictionalised look at the true story of Queen Anne and her behind the scenes drama. The result is wildly entertaining and a strong showcase for great writing and acting.
In 1708, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is dying of an unknown illness and attempting to deal with the ongoing war with France. Her main confidant and adviser is Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), who often berates and forcefully takes control of Anne’s position just to keep her in check. Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s often abused cousin is taken in to work as a servant, but she soon ends up wanting to usurp Sarah’s position and become the Queen’s trusted confidant. This results in a private war and power struggle between the two women.
Much of The Favourite is a departure in style, story and tone for commonly serious and depraved director Yorgos Lanthimos. Whilst it is just as weird as his prior films, it is far more grounded and less emotionally distant. But this works in the story’s favour, because it is about relationships and emotions. The political strife of the time gets plenty of focus as well, although it is not quite as interesting as the character drama, so it thankfully often takes a backseat.
What makes the story work so well is the three main characters. All of them are a perfect mix of villainous, sympathetic, hilarious and diabolical. Both Sarah and Abigail change throughout the story and go on character arcs related to the concept of power and whether that can be equated with love. Although the story has a lot of bleak themes, The Favourite is the best comedy I have seen all year. I was laughing throughout at the scenarios, the witty dialogue and the sheer audaciousness of what transpires. Anyone who considers historical dramas to be dull will not feel that way over this film.
The pacing in general is incredibly fast to the detriment of the third act, where certain sequences occur so quickly that it becomes slightly hard to follow, but this is not a problem because of how entertaining the entire experience is. The film also does fizzle out slightly towards the end, culminating in a final scene that confused me, but looking at it in hindsight I understand why it ended that way.
All three lead actresses are excellent, with Colman clearly having fun playing Queen Anne and making this character entertaining and tragic. Weisz and Stone compete to be the best, but the always brilliant Stone walks away with the film. Her transition from lovable and innocent victim to detestable master schemer is done perfectly and she pulls off an almost flawless British accent. If anyone thinks that Stone is a one-note actress, then they should see this. Weisz also does a great job at playing a character who is strict and scheming, but also slightly more emotionally aware than the other two.
Technically, this is a showcase for the talent of cinematographer Robbie Ryan. Every frame is beautifully composed, with the camera movements being so engrossing that scenes that should be boring aren’t. This is largely due to the usage of Whip-Pans and the Fish-Eye lens that create a stylish feeling. The use of natural lighting and period detail result in an authentic and realistic look that grounds the story. What is most impressive about Lanthimos as a director is how he has been able to shift his directorial style for each film, with The Favourite’s style being totally different from The Lobster’s deadpan comedic aura or Deer’s wide space zoom-heavy sense of dread. Considering how regular his films have now become, that is a major accomplishment.
The Favourite is the best film that Yorgos Lanthimos has made so far and the first that has been satisfying on almost every level. It’s an incredibly funny and very complex film that offers a lot to discuss and a lot to enjoy.