Monday, January 14, 2019

The Favourite – a quirky period drama with a love triangle and power struggle set in the royal court of Queen Anne

Yorgos Lanthimos’ oeuvre is dominated by surreal films that disturb (The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Lobster).

His new film, The Favourite, is a more mainstream period drama, albeit with a few twists, based around a love triangle and power struggle in the royal court of Queen Anne.

Picking up the screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, Lanthimos creates a film that examines what happens when young Abigail (Emma Stone) barges into the strong womance between Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her special advisor Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) comedy.

Colman brings to life a monarch who suffers from physical and mental ill health (and has lost 17 children to miscarriages and infant death) and has handed over the detail of running her country – which is at war – to her oldest friend and confidante. Often wordlessly holding her face, over two hours, she gives a masterclass in acting, portraying pain, sadness, depression, mischievousness, lust, ecstasy and loneliness.

While the usual level of fantasy has been turned down and there’s a lot more dialogue than you’d expect in a Lanthimos film, the director’s trademark can be seen stamped on the sometimes unmelodious soundtrack, the chapterisation of the narrative structure, the typography of the opening and closing credits, and the frequent use of a fisheye lens provides distorted views of a royal court where not all is as would be expected. Duck racing and cake-eating rabbits are other reminders that the country may not be well governed. Watch out for a quite brilliant anachronistic dance sequence.

While Britain is at war with France, Lady Sarah and her young cousin Abigail lock themselves into a battle of subterfuge and flirting to win the heart of the queen and permanently banish their rival from the royal court. Weisz and Stone create worthy opponents and strongly dislikeable characters that deserve to pick up awards, even if they are dwarfed by Colman’s central performance.

Rich sets, huge wigs (for the men), political intrigue, bedroom shenanigans and a huge power tug of war over the head of the nation along with Lanthimos’ quirky asides creates a compelling and rather wonderful film to begin 2019.

The Favourite continues to be screened in the Queen’s Film Theatre until 17 February and is also still running in most other local cinemas.

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