THE FAVOURITE - movie review by Eleanor De Fer
Yorgos Lanthimos’ most recent film, The Favourite, chronicles the ever changing favor of Queen Anne among her confidants Abigail and Sarah, and is arguably his best yet. His previous efforts include The Killing of the Sacred Dear and The Lobster, both of which possess his signature blend of intensity, commentary, and twisted humor, yet in digging deep into his Stuart England era characters, Lanthimos has reached a new level of accessibility, but also greatness. While Lanthimos’ previous films were able to succeed on account of the fictitious and almost dystopian situations he put his characters in, The Favourite succeeds because Lanthimos accesses a new level of realism and allows the audience to see every side of the three incredibly human leads. Despite its impressive sets and elaborate costumes, at its core, the film is really about the semi-fictitious, always captivating, relationship between three women.
At the center of the film is Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), an often unpredictable and easily upset monarch. However, as the film goes on, we learn that she is deeply alone. After being ill from gout and losing seventeen children, Anne turns to her bunnies (seventeen of them) as well as Abigail and Sarah for some semblance of comfort to varying degrees of success. There are multiple moments, brilliantly acted by Colman, where a brief moment of happiness will melt into sadness, so gradually you can’t even tell until her expression is entirely empty. Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) is Queen Anne’s confidant, secret lover, political consultant, who also maintains their relationship with the occasional trivial disagreement. However, the stability of their partnership begins to crumble when Sarah’s cousin, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) arrives. When we first meet Abigail, she becomes a servant for Queen Anne yet quickly and cleverly works her way up until she is Sarah’s equal and eventual replacement.
What makes each individual character strong is how they intersect with each other, but also where they deviate throughout the film. At the start, we see Abigail as pure and well intentioned towards Anne, contrasting Sarah’s sometimes cold and calculating persona, yet by the end Abigail has become almost more calculating than Sarah, manipulating both Sarah and Anne to get what she wants. Despite both Abigail and Sarah frequently taking advantage of Anne’s loneliness, Anne is far from powerless, revealing the true power dynamics in an incredible final scene. This makes for a film that is never predictable, and keeps the audience guessing until the credits roll. Despite a rather winding plot, Lanthimos always stays true to his characters.
The strength of The Favourite lies in its uniquely complex portrayal of women. There are male characters, yet they act only as pawns in an elaborate chess game with powerful and complicated women in control. In some films, especially when written or directed by men, female characters are portrayed as one note. Often times, female characters are just feminine, or just bitchy, or even praised when they are just badass. However, what's truly special about The Favourite is that Lanthimos shows that women are anything but one note. In the portrayal of the relationships between Abigail, Sarah, and Anne, they are rude, passionate, sad, sexual, vulnerable, lonely, selfish, manipulative, and spiteful. The fully developed characters make a wonderful accompaniment to the film’s wonderfully quick witted dialogue. A captivating plot would be enough for this film to be great, but it's incredible and complex character development cements this film as one of the best of 2018.