Once upon a time there was young girl who was down on her luck. She fell out of her carriage and into the mud on the way to a job interview. Not the most flattering first impression to make on one’s potential employer but alas after an astute conversation, she was hired as a maid. And then one day she decided to do her due diligence and strive for something bigger. She wanted to change her stars, be something more, because what’s more alluring than having no wealth, prestige, and fame? Power.
THE FAVOURITE has a fortitude built like no other, with a bona fide crassness purged in dignified niceties. It’s no wonder the director of THE LOBSTER and KILLING OF A SACRED DEER crafted such an intrinsic tale of fleeting power and a seductive nature that captures the essence of climbing the hierarchy in English society at the start of the 18th Century. It’s a riot and caddy with venomous punches among the cadence of English ladies. It’s hilarious, dark, erotic, and savagely enticing for someone who dreams of getting ahead in life and does so by tarnishing established reputations and extorting secrets. I can’t help but feel this film challenges the viewer to see something more. Which leads me to question; what has changed in society lately? Doesn’t this happen everyday? It’s the ceremonious passing of the torch filtered through generations intoxicated with class, wealth, and power. It’s like DANGEROUS LIAISONS meets BARRY LYNDON, carrying the verbose sentiment of QUILLS in very subtle somewhat demeaning ways and very enchanting sequences lit with candlelight. Oh la la. And in the same vein as QUILLS it took creative liberty and the immersive mind of actors to bring such vividness to these characters which is 95% of the fun. Otherwise, this film would just be a pretty period piece where the audience can “oh” and “ah” at the set and costume design.
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ paints this canvas with his instincts and diligently with a dominating ensemble of women lead by Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz. It’s backstabbing eroticism at it’s finest and what’s even more enticing is this story is somewhat true with some obvious added creative flair. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) was a real person who momentarily ran things while England was at war with France during the 1700s, who was very much captivated by her confidante and lover, Sarah Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). But once, Abby (Emma Stone) enters the playing field, she inevitably and tenaciously holds the metaphoric ball of power in her court. Betrothed to reluctantly be married in order to secure a seat as a lady in the queen’s court. She goes to great lengths to reserve her power in very convoluted ways so much it makes sense why Lanthimos’ enforced that notion with the brilliance of using a fisheye lens to disorient a world so renowned for it’s prim and proper pretenses of societal obedience. Looks can always be deceiving.
At times it really does feel like you’re watching an elaborate chess match with quick wit and sassy commentary, but perhaps it’s really women being women illustrating the need to be seen, heard, and challenged. For instance, when Sarah comments on Queen Anne’s makeup and says she looks like a badger. It immediately opens the gate in terms of how bluntness becomes the thread of how this particular breed of women operate. It’s what these three characters share in their own unique ways throughout the story and it’s empowering and enriching to see this play out on the screen.
As these intriguing triangular, intersecting relationships develop it almost becomes impossible to root for a single character because everyone’s motive is diverse with complexity. Ephemerally becoming its own kind of Shakespearean entity. And yet, Olivia Coleman steals the show and rightly deservingly won an Oscar for such a spellbinding performance. Her range of emotions go from 0 to 100 in a nanosecond carefully embodying the persona of a clueless queen whose authority shadows the story like the slow, yet delicate anthesis of an English primrose. As visually illustrated in the final scene of the film, we have an incredible superimposed image of Abigail and Anne’s faces layered in with the rabbits, which reveal exactly what Abigail is in the hierarchy of power. She is a helpless pet within the queen’s court, which is ironic because initially Abigail’s interest in the queen’s rabbits is what sparked her position and completely altered it.
THE FAVOURITE has the most exceptionally pleasing, subtle message I’ve seen on the big screen since Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE. Yeah, that’s an enormous compliment but there’s truth in it. In essence this Lanthimos’ rosebud or perhaps even Andrzej Wajda’s DANTON which I highly recommend for any cinephile out there because it’s also a period piece about corruption and power during the French revolution. All hail! Stories infused with strong themes such as power and revenge always get a good movie crowd to the theaters and I’m always drawn to them because my inquisitive nature lives in a world where power if fought over every single day. I feel like it’s a wheel house for anybody to fantasize about because it connects us cunningly to a fictional world when it parallels as an everyday occurrence in for example a capitalist society just simply masked in virtue of multiplicity. How prevalently charming. Yet, certainly stands among great films when imagination is at play. It’s in great company with such films as Sally Potter’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s ORLANDO. Given the context of sexual identity, the story also had a playful tone and went far and wide with costume and set design and of course the glue who held it all together; Tilda Swinton.
My mind kind of went on a spirally, spastic tangent with the comparison of films, but it’s simply a good feeling when you watch something witty and brazen. I love that this film challenges you to see beyond the surface and deeper into a scathing message about the complacency of power. It ignites a fire of thoughts and introspection of the here and now at least that’s how I viewed it. The nature of people always appears to lean in the direction of control which gives the illusion of complete domination. I get this film may not be for everyone, but looking at it through the lens of art and parody it shines oh so bright.