Frost on Film: The Favourite

Not your average period drama

It is fair to say that Yorgos Lanthimos is no normal director. Ever since the Greek born maestro started making English language films, his unique blend of comedy and surrealist direction has amazed and unnerved in equal measure. With The Favourite, Lanthimos has stayed true to form, envisioning hilariously eccentric scenes from racing ducks to a naked man getting pelted with oranges.

The film traces the endeavours of Queen Anne, the English monarch during the early 18th century. But while the story is in principle a period piece, its mix of comedy and fast dialogue push the film towards something ‘other’. Like any good drama, the interplay between characters fizzes off the screen, but with the absence of contemplative dialogue and a constant foray of f-bombs, it becomes clear that the film doesn’t want to be a period drama. Because of this, Olivia Coleman, who superbly plays Queen Anne, did not research her character at all, instead forging her portrayal purely upon what was written on the screenplay.

That is not to say that historical fact has been completely disregarded, as Queen Anne’s close relationship with Sarah Churchill is pivotal to the central plot. Indeed, historical truth roots the drama but doesn’t drive it, so don’t go into The Favourite expecting a history lesson. Instead expect an almost Shakespearian tale of deception, love and sexuality.

From its opening scene, The Favourite asserts how a developing love triangle between three women promises to dominate the plot. Angry yet childish, Coleman’s Queen Anne is the precipice of this, brilliantly portraying a character plagued by past trauma who fundamentally requires emotional attention. Ironically, in a world where power men surround her, it is female company which she craves.

By her side is Sarah Churchill, played with steely menace by Rachel Weisz. As a Duchess whose firm demeanour allows her considerable sway over the queen, Sarah seems to be the complete antithesis of Anne – while Sarah is preoccupied with war in France, Anne is more concerned about the wellbeing of her seventeen rabbits.

This strange relationship does lend itself to some laughs, like when Sarah unapologetically claims that Anne looks like a badger. However, the arrival of Sarah’s mischievous cousin Abigail begins to damage this relationship. Quickly, the two cousins struggle for a place of importance next to the queen, resulting in devilish deception and some absurd yet funny scenes.

Emma Stone is evidently having a ball in the role of Abigail. Following a fall from grace, her character arrives on the palace doorstep covered in mud and is shepherded into maid quarters. Abigail’s relationship with the queen slowly grows as her role as a maid becomes more sensual.

The love triangle which develops is engaging, taking turns that are often hard to predict. Yet in many ways the cinematography is stranger than the plot, with the continued use of fish-eye lenses and low-angle shots serving to disorientate the viewer. These odd perspectives elevate the bizarre events that occur on screen. Even with this, the film still manages to shine cinematically as each of the central women parade through rooms that are lavish and extravagant; a true feast for the eyes.

While funny, the film’s humour is sometimes too weird, as was the case with Lanthimos’s prior work: The Killing of A Sacred Deer. However, there is still delight to be found in elites from the 18th century prancing around in wigs while shouting out expletives that period dramas steer clear of. And anyone not giggling away at a lord who remains possessive over his prized racing duck, Horatio, is humourless.

Admittedly, a tale of seduction and deception is an alluring prospect and fits well with Lanthimos’s crazy directorial style. The film is not astounding but is oddly enjoyable and by its finale, The Favourite’s blend of comedy and surrealism is commendable.

-Stefan Frost

The Favourite is in cinemas now



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