The Favourite

by Toby Woollaston

tfThe darling of deadpan, Yorgos Lanthimos has once again worked his enigmatic style to deliver a film that is part period piece and part anachronistic satire. Anyone who has experienced the quirkiness of The Lobster or the uneasiness of The Killing of a Sacred Deer will know that the writer/director has a cynical view of humanity. His unique style, often touted as a humorous Kubrick, twangs on the raw nerves of his audience as much as his dark humour tickles their funny bone. The Favourite is no different and tonally this film snuggles comfortably in between his two previous outings.

Rabbit rearing, peculiar dance sequences, duck racing, opulent sets, outlandish costumes and more wigs than a drag queen’s wardrobe flesh out the Lanthimos world. The Favourite straddles that surreal space between spoof and serious period drama and is a satirical glance at a warring nation as well as a direct stare at the human condition.

The story takes place in 18th Century England and focusses on three deeply flawed characters; Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) as the incompetent, needy and childlike monarch Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz (My Cousin Rachel) as her ruthless but trusted adviser Lady Sarah, and Emma Stone (Birdman) as the interloping, scheming social climber, Abigail. 

Refreshingly, men for the most part are cast to the margins, sent to war, or form impotent chattels which Abigail and Sarah use in their contest for Queen Anne’s affection. 

It is a delightfully venomous pair of performances from Weisz and Stone who serve and volley salvos of shrewd deceitfulness at each other.  But it is Colman’s portrayal of Queen Anne that steals the show with a pained but often hilarious performance that packs equal measures of giddy glee and pathos.  Lanthimos’s cinematic flourishes further enhance proceedings, with intentional camerawork that manages to reduce giant sets into cloying and claustrophobic spaces. 

The absurdist dark humour won’t appeal to everyone—depending on your level of cynicism, you will either witness a masterful work of profundity or an overcooked piece of silliness. I loved it.

The Favourite opens Boxing day.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

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