“The Favourite” is a surreal, perverse tale of power and femininity in 18th century British royal courts.
Sound interesting? It is.
The film is director Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest, who is best known for “The Lobster” in 2015. Unlike “The Lobster,” Lanthimos’ new film is likely to nab a host of Academy Award nominations this coming February, most notably for its three leading actresses.
Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone star in the movie as three women vying to win favor in the royal courts. Colman plays Queen Anne, while Weisz and Stone play two handmaids viciously competing for the Queen’s affection. All three believe that they’re the smartest and most capable of the bunch and spend the duration of the movie manipulating and double-crossing one another to prove their power.
The premise is straightforward enough, but Lanthimos’ direction adds elements of the bizarre and disturbed to the film. It’s filled with satire and cynicism, adding another layer of twistedness. All of these elements combine to dizzying, fantastical effect which makes the movie wildly entertaining and allows it to feel distinctly modern despite its historical setting.
The three lead women are transformative in their roles, disappearing into their wicked yet emotionally vulnerable characters. Each has two different personas; one is a facade which they attempt to keep up at all times, to each other and to other members of the court. Their other persona is a true one: the identity which holds the emotions that underlie their acts of violence and deceit.
“The Favourite” is ultimately about the destruction of these three women’s facades until each of them is left with nothing but their raw emotions. Without spoiling anything, there’s an argument to be made that all three women finish the movie in a worse place than they began it in — maybe not politically or in terms of power, but in terms of pure emotion and questionable morality.
The film’s script is nastily funny. It’s raunchy and unpleasant in the most delightful of ways. The music is hauntingly beautiful, and the cinematography is gorgeous. The film uses a fisheye lens in various shots to disorient and limit perspective. The production design — from costumes to building exteriors to lavishly-decorated interior sets — is nothing short of incredible.
“The Favourite” is most certainly one of my favorite (wink-wink) films of the year, and if you’re a fan of cinema, history, Emma Stone (who isn’t?) or strong female characters — or if you simply want to be entertained for two hours — there’s something in it for you.