Arts and Culture

Film Review: “The Favourite” by Lisa Harper Campbell

Posted on: Sat 19 Jan 2019

By Lisa Harper Campbell

The Favourite, the latest offering from Yorgos Lanthimos is a dark, nuanced and engaging dissection of power; its allure, its danger and its exploitation.

Set in the early 18th century during the reign of Queen Anne of England, the film is largely concerned with the domestic sphere of the monarchy. The inner workings of the palace, the private relationships between power brokers and the very human need to be respected and even revered are all explored via our central female cast of Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone.

Olivia Colman presents us with a physically and emotionally weakened Anne, clinging to a clear former dynamism diminished by the experience of 17 lost children (true). It should be noted that this is a fictionalised account of Queen Anne’s life but there are delicious nuggets of truth to be found throughout the film, as Lanthimos has said in several interviews, “some of it is true, some of it isn’t.” It is this playfulness, although applied to quite dark themes, that I really enjoy about Lanthimos’ filmmaking. Colman is a great conduit for this kind of cheekiness, relishing the lighter shades of her character while still heavily investing in the haunting nature of Anne’s reality, one of pressure, isolation and pain. Colman, who is set to take over the role of Elizabeth II from Claire Foy in The Crown is a gem of an actor and if you haven’t seen Beautiful People yet, fix that immediately.

Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone offer stellar supporting performances. Weisz’s stubborn steeliness as Lady Sarah, the long-standing confidant of Queen Anne is a joy to watch. Based loosely on the real-life friend of the monarch, Sarah Churchill Duchess of Marlborough (who, along with her war hero husband, received Blenheim Castle as a gift from the queen) this woman is authoritative and manipulative but even she cannot escape the inherent vulnerability of being so close to real power.

Stone is on the opposite trajectory, playing a distant cousin of Sarah, Abigail, who has fallen from grace. She arrives at the Palace seeking employment as a scullery maid, she slowly but surely works her way up the ranks, closer and closer to the Queen, always clawing at the ‘security’ that power can bring her.

Lanthimos has created a claustrophobic and paranoid world in which these power dynamics play out. Special mention to Nicholas Hoult as the meddling, gossiping leader of the Whig party with some choice commentary on the main storyline throughout. A particular dance sequence, you’ll know which upon seeing the film, is also a highlight. Not to mention the already much-praised final sequence.

With the exception of the over-use of fish-eye camera techniques, there is little to fault in this film. Never shying away from the grotesque, Lanthimos instead embraces it in order to remind us of the brutality always lurking beneath the surface each time we relate to one another; in the world of The Favourite relationships bring joy and laughter but also pain and danger. Ain’t that the truth.

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