AN 18TH CENTURY DARK DRAMEDY THAT PROVES OLIVIA COLEMAN IS NOT THE ONLY GREAT THING IN YORGOS LANTHIMOS “THE FAVOURITE”.
Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos likes to delve into themes of sex, love, friendship, violence (both physically and mentally) and family. His newest film “The Favourite”, that was up for 10 Oscars (including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actress Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz). It ended up walking away with only one. Yorgos has the closest thing to a mainstream hit with “The Favourite”. It stands apart from his best-known films like “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (Both starring Colin Farrell). It’s a gorgeous period piece, as well as his first major feature that he did not co-write or write himself, instead written by first time screenwriter Deborah Davis and Aussie TV writer Tony McNamara. Even though it is not penned by Yorgos, it very much fits the gamesmanship on display in his earlier work that he is known for.
It’s not hard to see the critical claim surrounding “The Favourite”, especially when you take in account the visual spectacle of the picture, including the sets and costume designs. It is such nasty fun that it’s never clear whether Rachel Weisz or Emma Stone is going to come out on top as “The Favourite”. It’s a mixture of a true story, black comedy and period piece where women in bustles and corsets hopelessly outmaneuver men in wigs and breeches, and where everyone from the servants to the queen herself is playing a game and everyone is manipulating everyone to get what they want. Like Lanthimos’s previous films it’s a bawdy, darkly funny, sharp-edged, foul-mouthed comedy about the dark places we go for love.
Olivia Colman (who won the film it’s only Academy Award for Best Actress) plays the terrifically bawdy and childish Queen Anne, the 18th century monarch who babbles incoherently in-between treatments for her gaut-ridden legs. She barely runs her kingdom, leaving that in the hands of her best friend and personal assistant, Sarah (“The Mummy’s” Rachel Weisz). As the wife of the country’s finest soldier (“Sherlock’s” Mark Gatiss), she uses her closeness to the Queen to push his case for a continued war with France, while the opposition party, led by powdered blowhard Harley (“X-Men’s” Nicholas Hoult), who wants to sue for peace.
Sarah’s cousin, Abigail (Academy Award Winner Emma Stone), who has fallen far from grace and comes crawling, quite literally, as she is introduced being covered in stinking “mud”. Lost to her father in a bet and used as a sexual object ever since, Abigail arrives with hope of a job. It isn’t long before she’s weasling her way into the Queen’s good graces and fighting Sarah to well be….”The Favourite”.
Watching these three fiercely intelligent women, played by a trio of powerhouse actresses, at some of the best work they have done is endlessly fascinating. Colman who stole the Best Actress Oscar from both Lady Gaga and Glenn Close (who everyone thought was a shoe-in for the Oscar), may steal the show but Weisz and Stone are hardly just a couple of nobodies.
The veteran and well-respected British actress Olivia Colman gives a well deserved Oscar winning performance as Queen Anne, who often acts like a spoiled child and is always on the verge of madness as she suffers from debilitating physical ailments and violent mood swings. But there’s also something very sad and lonely about her, she keeps 17 pet rabbits in her bedroom, each one named for each of the children she lost at childbirth or shortly thereafter. Colman, can move from hilarity to heartbreak as Anne becomes increasingly immobilized by her body fighting painful Gout that left her legs leaking in sores and her increasing problem with obesity. That is Yorgos Lanthimos for you, he is never one to settle for just one tone when he can and will throw a whole parade at you. Even with all the evilness and manipulation he makes us care about this women without compromising their strength, he also reveals their vulnerabilities and sorrows.
Both Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are perfect as the two women who develop a strange friendship rooted in mistrust with the Queen. Let me jump on the performance of Rachel Weisz who is sharp as a knife and turns in one of her finest performances (see her Oscar winning performance in the excellent “The Constant Gardener” and her performance in “The WhistleBlower”). You absolutely cannot take away from the incredible work from each one of these fine actresses.
The early 18th century settings loom authentic, Yorgos shoots and photographs the scenes in the Royal Palace with fish eye lenses, wide angle lenses and rapid pan shots that is revolutionary and highly effective. Kudos to his cinematographer Robbie Ryan and production designer Fiona Crombie for realizing Yorgos vision so well. The contemporary feel in its central characters’ conflict is completely matched by the film’s visual style. Director Lanthimos and his director of photography Robbie Ryan shot “The Favourite” in 35mm, using only natural light to capture the visuals of the time to give the film a distinct and original look.
Visually speaking this is a lush and gorgeous production, with all the eccentricities of Lanthimos earlier work. You are more likely to find this more in line with Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon”, Milos Foreman’s “Amadeus” or most influential is Stephen Frears “Dangerous Liasions”.
The score is incredible, grandiose and beautiful. It veers between grandiosity and minimalism but it either draws us in or keeps us at a distance as it needs to be. Weisz and company look incredible in the costumes of Oscar nominated Sandy Powell, who should have won the Oscar this year with her period attire for both “The Favourite” and “Mary Poppins Returns”. When you add the sumptuous production design of Fiona Crombie, you have a movie that’s mindblowing in every department.
Wtf? Is not an unfair reaction to “The Favourite”, all of Yorgo’s film have a wtf factor to them. “The Favourite” is divided into such quirky chapter headings as “This Mud Stinks,” “What an Outfit” and “I Dreamt I Stabbed You in the Eye”.
Some of the few wackier moments seem pulled from an episode of “Saturday Night Live”, but it is a minor concern in an otherwise sinister and funny picture. One that’s brought to life by Colman, Weisz, and Stone, who collaborate to create a richly realized atmosphere of jealousy and duplicity. The talent is there and while Lanthimos tries to make something partially accessible, he doesn’t lose any of his trademark style.
If you’ve seen the previous work from Lanthimos, you’ll be prepared for this twisted tale. The humor is pitch black satire, and the actions of these three women are at times nasty. It is a treat to see a period piece that steps out of the usual style and create a weird world of politics, hidden sexual desires and a healthy heaping of betrayal and revenge. Easily one of 2018’s best films.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)