This review was originally published as part of our Venice Film Festival coverage on 31/08/2018.
Yorgos Lanthimos and his tragicomic experiments have been a favourite of arthouse cinema for years now, from the bloody Dogtooth and The Killing of a Sacred Deer to the oddly tender The Lobster. If his previous films felt like they were trying too hard to succeed as formal experiments, The Favourite marks a relent, and what will probably be his most popular film so far.
Themes of power, control and love all echo throughout Lanthimos’ work, and The Favourite is no different, entwining itself within the power struggles in the court of 18th-century British monarch Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). The Favourite is still unmistakeably from Lanthimos’ mind (though the exquisite and filthy script is from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara), but his harsh, alienating edges have been worn down.
Where once the mood of his films was so tense you simply wanted to give the man a massage, here Lanthimos really seems to be letting loose and having fun, without sacrificing any of the foreboding he loves to deal in. Absurd vignettes show the spiralling chaos in court as fallen noble Abigail (Emma Stone) and the Queen’s current right-hand woman Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) compete to satisfy their monarch’s whims and cravings as her body and mind deteriorate. The bluntest comparison that comes to mind is if Green Wing and The Thick of It were thrust back into a period setting.
Robbie Ryan shoots the carnivalesque mayhem with sumptuous shadows, revelling in all the rich colours available to him in this stunning set. Most importantly, for once in Lanthimos’ oeuvre this feels like more than an empty thought experiment built to test its audience. The Favourite thrills, delights, and even touches the heart in its giddy chase of power and what its pursuit can do to us.
CAST: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Mark Gatiss, Joe Alwyn, Nicholas Hoult
DIRECTOR: Yorgos Lanthimos
WRITERS: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
SYNOPSIS: In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah governs the country in her stead. When new servant Abigail arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.