The better Queen biopic.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos is not accustomed to making accessible films. His are films that normally exist in their own reality of oddness, that only he could truly make. So to hear that he’s made one of the best historical dramas is something of a surprise, yet will seem to fit like a glove once viewed.
Set in 1708, the film follows the rivalry between Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) confidante Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and newcomer servant girl Abigail (Emma Stone) as they begin a subtle power-struggle for the Queen’s affections.
The Favourite boasts some of the best acting, writing, and indeed direction of the year, with Lanthimos’ near trademark style (low angles, slow pans) seamlessly blending with the film’s historical setting, with the story not a slave to said setting, but rather the opposite. Lanthimos as stated that the film has “a lot” of historical inaccuracies, but it’s simply too good to care.
The cinematography offers such beauty in certain scenes, evoking a Barry Lyndon-esque apparel, whilst also feeling suitably flat when the scene calls for it. And with sets and costumes this lavish, that’s a tricky thing to do. However, the odd fisheye lens shot, of which there are a few throughout the film, does feel more distracting than presumably intended.
The script delivers some of the best storytelling for the genre, every line whip-smart and never once trying to add to the pretentious nature commonly associated with royal biopics laden with snobbery (Nicholas Hoult’s Harley gasps before letting out a very high-pitched take on the film’s very first C-bomb.)
The central trio of women in the cast are equal parts brilliant, and indeed deserving of every drop of praise lavished upon them. Colman earns every karat of her Oscar. Her Queen Anne is a brilliant performance; a petulant child trapped in a monarch’s quickly-failing body, a slave to her advisers, but trying at every opportunity to exert her power on others. Weisz delivers the goods as Sarah, equal parts the heart of the film, but also delivering some of the film’s most scathing remarks (“[Your father] had charm to burn. And I suppose he did.”) Sarah is nothing short of Anne’s babysitter, and Weisz exudes just the right matriarchal sternness, whilst also that of a close lover.
But Stone delivers what could arguably be called as her greatest performance to date. Abigail is at once likeable from frame one, and her journey over the course of the picture feels completely organic, all thanks to Stone’s charisma.
The Favourite is a brilliantly comic but also harrowing farce, that may yet be the closest we get to a Lanthimos screwball comedy, but also an important discussion on the themes of power and, yes, feminism. These are women at the height of power, ruling over their male counterparts, but each crumbling in their own way. Some may fight it, but others succumb to it. It’s a nuanced discussion on feminist ideals not often seen, and even less often delivered so interestingly from a truly original director.