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The Favourite – Movie Review

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The Favourite – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

Period pieces have often been accused of being cold and stodgy and some do run the risk of falling into that trap. The Favourite has some of the hallmarks of period pieces, while also having a sense of humour about itself as it details the absurdities of the royal court. With three excellent performances at its centre, The Favourite becomes a battle for the affection of Queen Anne and the ways these two women try to receive that love. Director Yorgos Lanthimos doesn’t necessarily want us to take sides, but rather allows us to watch the madness unfold as we see who is truly in command.

The relationships and environments of The Favourite are quickly established early on as is the humour. The little dialogue exchanges between the characters have that subtle British wit, while also giving some inclination of their inner thoughts. The sharp knives that cut through the conversations between Rachel Weisz’s Lady Sarah and Emma Stone’s servant girl Abigail perfectly highlight the growing animosity between them. The best scenes in The Favourite are when these two butt heads and in particular, Abigail’s growing and careful manipulation. In the middle is Queen Anne and the film shows how differently she views her relationships with Sarah and Abigail.

Lanthimos has particular fun with mocking the fashions of the higher class during Anne’s reign. Nicholas Hoult has a solid supporting turn as the 1st Earl of Oxford with a willingness to dress up and be made up and he looks more ridiculous with every appearance. However, the film essentially belongs to Stone, Weisz and Olivia Colman. Stone and Weisz portray their character’s mind games superbly well. While Weisz fittingly plays Sarah in a no-nonsense manner, Stone comes up with some hilarious facial expressions for Abigail. Colman adds a variety of layers to Queen Anne, who is at times sympathetic and at other moments, she is unhinged. Yet, the women seem more in control than the men. One running joke involving a duck manages to say so much.

The Favourite is also impressively put together from a production standpoint. Lanthimos and director of photography Robbie Ryan take full advantage of their filming location of Hatfield House, utilising many of the rooms and gardens throughout the establishment. There are some odd uses of fisheye lens, but they’re not too distracting. Sandy Powell also manages to enhance the characters with costumes that feel unique to this film, rather than merely being copied from a history book. The way Lanthimos and his team use lighting and costumes certainly brings to mind Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, one of a number of comparisons that could be made to that film. The Favourite even opts for classical pieces, rather than an original score, and the music has been effectively chosen to capture the story and time period.

Yorgos Lanthimos’s previous film The Killing of a Sacred Deer felt nihilistic and with a clear contempt for its characters. The Favourite is different in that it actually likes its leads to an extent. These are certainly not perfect people and he does put them through the wringer at a number of points. However, their motivations are clear and the dark sense of humour actually fits the plot and its setting. There is certainly a commentary on class that can be read into this movie, but the main interest is seeing Sarah and Abigail trade barbs and trying to outwit the other. They make for formidable enemies and that creates a more than engaging story.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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