The Favourite lives up to, and even exceeds expectations.
The hype surrounding The Favourite since its premier at the Venice Film Festival has been off the charts from both critics and audiences alike. After not being a huge fun of Lanthimos’s last two directorial efforts, The Lobster (2015) and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), I was rather skeptical of the warm press as I entered the theater at the BFI London Film Festival. I am delighted to announce that I was blown away for the entirety of the film’s two hour runtime, and that Lanthimos’s latest is the best film of the year so far.
In the 18th century, England is at war with France. Though the Queen is rather emotionally fragile and often overwhelmed with the day to day tasks of managing the British empire during wartime, she makes it through the days by relying on her stern, trusted advisor, Lady Sarah, whom she also has a secret love affair with. When Abigail, a young servant girl who is also Lady Sarah’s cousin, arrives on the scene, the Lady takes the young girl under her wing. However, when Queen Anne begins to grow an affinity for the servant girl, a competition for the Queen’s affection grows more and more heated between Sarah and Abigail.
Though almost every aspect of the film is seamless, the strength of The Favourite is found in its characters. It has been quite sometime since I enjoyed watching three characters come alive on the screen like I did with Queen Anne, Lady Sarah, and Abigail, all three of which are portrayed in remarkable performances from Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, respectively. Equal parts snappy, sensitive, conniving, badass, and self-absorbed, the character arcs which the three undergo over the course of the film is a wonder to watch, and the audience is kept guessing as to which of their instincts these women will follow at any given moment. Though all three give Oscar worthy performances, Weisz steals the show with what should be the front runner for best supporting actress when awards season arrives.
Lanthimos’s direction is as visually striking as ever, utilizing an overwhelming amount of both low and high angle shots to emphasize the beauty of the English castle that explodes all over the walls, ceilings, and floors of the royal palace. Aided by the incredible cinematography of Robbie Ryan, the film gives a fresh, edgy look to a period which so often feels the same in all of the films set during this time period.
What separates The Favourite from Lanthimos’s past work is how digestible the film is. Though they are films of great artistry and depth, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, among others, can get abstract to the point of confusion, and quite honestly, boredom. A great strength of The Favourite is how the film is riotously funny and entertaining from scene to scene, but also has a lot to unpack underneath the surface, particularly in regards to views of femininity, affluence, and human nature. The themes the film introduces are focused yet complicated, and leave viewers contemplating them for hours after the film has concluded.
Only time will tell what will happen come February, but at this point, The Favourite should prepare itself to thank the Academy.