I don’t like period pieces set in the 1700s, I don’t know why. There’s something about the whole goofy attire, deafening use of Baroque music and the generalised foppishness and eloquent monotony of the settings that just leaves a bad taste for me.
With that being said, The Favourite is a simply fantastic film and it is deserving of all the praise and love its been getting as of late. There’s so much about it that makes it a great film, from director Yorgos Lanthimos’s unmistakably unique style and raucous humour to the absolutely stand out performances of Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. If you took one glance of this film and either thought “oh Christ, another bloody history film that gran’ll probably end up seeing” or “pfft, typical Oscar bait” then I implore you to reconsider.
The Favourite is set in the court of Queen Anne (Colman) during the early 18th century; England is at war with France and its nobles’ squabble as to whether to continue the war or sue for peace. Anne is a deeply depressed, petulant and imperious woman who spends her time trivially engaged with anything aside from leading her country, in her majesty’s stead rules Sarah Churchill (Weisz), an influential woman (and Anne’s lover) who is vehemently pursuing the continuation of war against the French. One day, however, Sarah’s younger, impoverished cousin, Abigail (Stone), arrives seeking work at the palace. Gradually, Abigail works her way from a scullery maid to Sarah’s personal maid and it’s from here when the two begin viciously jockeying for the queen’s affections.
If you’re not familiar with Lanthimos’s previous works then you may be caught off guard when watching The Favourite. The Greek director’s films have a distinct way about them, with his previous films (The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer being his most recent) having a deeply unsettling absurdity to them interrupted only with a light peppering of boorish and sidesplittingly funny comedy. And whilst The Favourite is perhaps one of his more accessible films to the everyday moviegoer, none of his brilliant styles has been robbed or squandered if anything it’s been perfected.
If every film that has ever released has had only one thing that gets asses in seats, then The Favourite has Olivia Coleman. My god her performance was beyond a simple explanation, however words like ‘fantastic’, ‘flawless’ and ‘breath-taking’ certainly come close. There was so much versatility, she’d snap from a wildly forlorn and broken woman to rage-filled imperiousness and petulant tragedy in a seamless and natural way. She deserves an Oscar for this role, she was simply perfect. However, as Coleman herself in an interview with Simon Mayo, she is but a brilliant co-star alongside the wonderful Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. As you sit through the film you unconsciously feel your emotions shift from rooting for Stone to Weisz in a constant back-and-forth, with Coleman the steady rock of tragedy that lays between them. I really don’t want to discuss much else because it’ll only lead to me spoiling this film, and I implore whoever reads this to get out and see this now.
As well as the brilliant acting and direction of The Favourite is the brilliant cinematography and set pieces. This film, despite a lot of historical inaccuracies, feels so real. The set could have easily played off the typicality’s of period-dramas and leeched the stereotypical sound and feel in a lazy way (just as Will Ferrell’s Holmes and Watson had done). But it doesn’t, everything feels genuine and sincere despite the tone, I think if anything Lanthimos plays off the expected courteousness of period pieces and throws in crude and vulgar characters, but never does this vulgarity feel laden. The music, too, utilises some period tunes but they are cleverly used to add to the tension and unpleasantness of the film.
So, overall, this film is certainly worth a watch. I don’t want to give away a whole lot because I genuinely think it is worth seeing. The music’s well done, the setting’s great, the tone and comedy is brilliant and the acting is simply flawless. The Favourite has proven itself to be deeply funny as well as so, so tragic in a seamless way, and I highly recommend it.
4 ½ out of 5