Movie of the Week: The Favourite (2018)

Yorgos Lanthimos directs Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone in this historical satire where Queen Anne finds her over indulged and paranoid attentions fought tooth and nail for by a bullying Lady Sarah Churchill and a conniving Abigail Marsham.

Wowee! What a high bar every other film released this new year now has to fall into or bang their foreheads off of. Easily Yorgos Lanthimos’ best film, this retains all his detached, cold bite and surreal microcosm playset view of society. But adds characters richer and more attractive than his usual deadpan chess pieces caught in his smirking, cold zero sum game. All three leads manage to be utterly vicious in their actions yet retain our sympathies. Colman is unguarded and stroppily perfect as the spoilt queen, tainted as much by tragedy as constant appeasement. Emma Stone has never been sexier as the fallen aristocrat, learning the pecking order from the bottom and then using everything at her disposal to graft her way into the Queen’s chambers. My personal favourite though is Rachel Weisz’ catty yet controlled Huma Abedin, the power behind the throne, albeit with a gormlessly ineffective husband. You cannot tell if she is forcing the continued war with France to further his prestige, get him out of her hair or put him in fatal peril. Yet she powers through all interactions with the sardonic edge of a Malcolm Tucker and the intelligent calm of a Hannibal Lecter. Somehow through this steely strength, Weisz also implies a true affection and openness with Anne. Watching her be torn down more than a few pegs in the mind games and powerplays has its pleasures but you aren’t entirely convinced her eventual comeuppance is exactly an unhappy outcome. Special mention should go to Nicholas Hoult’s out and out parliamentary rotter, a towering peacock of a brute, who does not realise just what a hornet’s nest he pokes when he tries to manipulate the ladies at war. He would be my Best Supporting Actor winner for the year without a moment’s pause. Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is superb; the establishing use of fish eye lenses lays entire tableaux out quirkily, prepping us for the unusual interactions. And while whether lighting with candlelight or daylight he manages to captures the beauty of the elaborates dresses, wall hangings and stunning leads. Obviously Swiftian deadpan wit and evocative Hogarthian visuals bring to mind Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. This is the saltier romp around the 18th century, with a far more capable ensemble… and in terms of filmmaking prowess the two masterpieces are pretty much neck and neck.

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