You could never accuse writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster“, “The Killing Of A Sacred Deer”) of being dull, or ‘by the book’. The Greek writer/director is anything but and here, with the first feature length film he’s directed but not written, he continues his pattern.
The Favourite is a dramatized take on the true story of Queen Anne who ruled over Great Britain for five years from 1702. Played by Olivia Colman (“Murder On The Orient Express“, “The Lobster“), Anne is perhaps one of the lesser known Queen’s but has the most remarkable story.
Anne was plagued throughout her life with a variety of illness, suffering from gout in her legs which sees her mainly either in a wheelchair, in bed or hobbling about the vast palace in the dim of candlelight.
She also had some 17 miscarriages which, no doubt, added or played a large part in her depression and manic mood swings. Colman’s performance is a tour de force, she gives the Queen a personality and, whilst it would have been easy to portray this woman as barmy, Colman does so sympathetically, meaning you laugh at the dark humour, but also feel sorry for this woman.
You feel sorry for her as she is manipulated first by her close confidant, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, Rachel Weisz (“Denial“, “The Lobster“), and second by Churchull’s cousin Abigail, Emma Stone (“La La Land“, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”).
For years Churchill was the Queen’s right-hand woman, in fact, the film shows that it was the duchess who was pulling the levers behind the scenes. Weisz is perfect as this power-woman, lording her power over the men in parliament, bowing to the Queen and keeping everything running accordingly.
When her cousin, Abigail, arrives unannounced looking for work, she starts her off as a maid, despite Abigail having once been an educated Lady. It doesn’t take long however, before Abigail begins to worm her way in with the Queen, looking to usurp the duchess and take her power.
So begins a battle of wills, of deviousness, of backstabbing and manipulation worthy of any tall-tale, only, a lot of this is true.
Both Stone and Weisz perform admirably, shining together and apart on screen as they do battle for everything at stake. But, make no mistake, The Favourite belongs to Colman and her portrayal of the Queen.
It’s every bit as delicious as you’d hope from the trailer, with one small problem: what you see in the trailer is all but the majority of Colman’s role. She’s not in it nearly enough, which for story purposes works as the story is, ostensibly, about the rival for her attention from Abigail and Lady Sarah. But Colman is so good, so funny, so moving, so brilliant, you wish there were more of her on screen.
The men in the film are the ones who believe they have power, the parliament, which mainly centre’s around Nicholas Hoult (“Mad Max: Fury Road”, “Deadpool 2“) as leader of the opposition and James Smith (“The Thick Of It (TV)”, “The Iron Lady”) as the current prime minister.
Both men must court the ladies of the film in order to get anywhere near the Queen, vying for their attention and what little time they can bargin for with Anne.
Lanthimos directs and pushes the strangeness buttons as we’ve come to expect. It’s perhaps the most accessible of his movies thus far, though that’s not saying a lot. Lanthimos uses some interesting stylistic choices such as the employment of fish-eye-style lenses and swivelling cameras on their axis when most directors would cut. You quickly get used to it, but you’re aware it’s there.
Obviously, outside of the main narrative being slightly oddball, there are a few quirks thrown in for good measure as well, a naked man in a wig and make-up having fruit thrown at him, a man referred to as ‘God’ but who is just seen f*cking women in the background and Horatio, the Fastest Duck in the City.
The Favourite is good, it’s not as good as I was hoping from the trailer, but it is good. When you have an actor who is giving one of the performances of their lifetime, it just seems a shame that we don’t get to see more of it, though maybe less is more, in which case, Lanthimos should be applauded and Colman revered.