The Favourite review: A gripping period drama with women at the centre, or just plain bonkers?
“So, what did you think of The Favourite?” my aunt asks me over the hum of restaurant chatter. I have found that, since becoming a ‘filmy person’, a sense of doom prickles over me whenever I’m asked that question. Normally, I deliver some vaguely comprehensible opinion, and it’s over. But The Favourite is, well, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, and therefore Difficult.
The Favourite isn’t a film that can pass you by. It has pounced on us with a loud, outlandish “watch me if you f*cking dare” attitude. Boasting a killer cast (Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) it’s nominated for Best Film and Best British Film at the BAFTAs and, based on their performances alone, this isn’t surprising.
It wasn’t so much the impressive cast that pulled me to the over-priced cinema seats on a Saturday night to watch The Favourite, but the three characters that they played. How often do we see a film with a predominantly female cast shining at the award ceremonies? On this front, I was not disappointed. These characters are not stereotypical. They are odd; they are grotesque; they are devious. They are anything but polite.
Set in 18th-century England, Queen Anne (Colman) is riddled with depression, illness and responsibility. Since she’d much rather be cuddling her rabbits or racing lobsters, she relies on the help of Lady Sarah Churchill (Weisz), both with her workload and her sexual urges. A decent arrangement, some may say. Enter Abigail (Stone), Lady Churchill’s penniless cousin in desperate need of work. Abigail does a wonderful job in pretending she’s not a devious social climber, and the two compete to become the Queen’s favourite.
It’s a clever film, oozing in dark, dream-like imagery and wide angle lenses that make you feel dazed, as if stuck in some creepy, yet magical dolls house. Poor Queen Anne has no personal space, talking war and tax from her own bed. Colman’s performance is undoubtedly impressive, and there are some extremely poignant moments, alongside bonkers laugh out loud comedy. She tells a tiny, helpless servant, “Look at me!” When he looks – “how dare you look at me!”
My aunt is fed up of waiting for a response. “I hated it!” she erupts, reminding me that I’m not hiding behind a bookshelf in Queen Anne’s bedroom, but sitting at a table in a Turkish restaurant in central London. My boyfriend concurs: “I left to buy a drink for twenty minutes!” I didn’t even notice he’d gone.
It seems that, quite like The Lobster, Lanthimos has created another film that divides people. Whilst I don’t agree with my aunt, there’s something that stops me from saying that I loved The Favourite. For me, it’s the story. Whilst it’s an impressive and unusual concept, the plot writhes around in circles, never quite satisfying. Lady Sarah and Abigail’s competition only builds momentarily, never reaching the full confrontational climax that we’re hoping for. Instead, we’re left with a depressing realisation that everyone’s a bit horrible, selfish and trapped in the beds that they have made themselves. Thought-provoking, but a tad frustrating.
Photographies by The Favorite' Sources: Fox Searchlight Picutures