Title: The Favourite
Country: UK, Ireland, USA
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenwriters: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
Music: Komeil S. Hosseini
Cinematography: Robbie Ryan
Greek absurdist Yorgos Lanthimos’ sixth feature, finally launching him to the stratosphere of cinematic hierarchy, THE FAVOURITE, a major Oscar contender with 10 nominations which wound up with a solitary win from Olivia Colman, who plays the British sovereign Queen Anne in this early 18th century royal court drama, with two ladies, Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Weisz) and a fallen-from-grace young chambermaid Abigail Hill (Stone), vying for her favoritism.
To put three prominent female characters right in the dead center is a welcome sea change notwithstanding, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s script crisply mines into an overwhelming sapphic attraction that plays a cardinal factor in the gamesmanship. Shot on a tight budget, DP. Robbie Ryan frequently uses fish-eye and wide lenses to create a feeling of cavernous loneliness within the royal spaces, mostly in the Queen’s chamber room, the film’s rococo decor and makeshift but fancy-looking costumes are greatly attuned with its natural or practical lighting and the inclement climate of its locality, all speaks volumes for the fact that one can still dream up a period setting without a bloated budget to sweep off audience’s feet, not to mention the fancy flight of cosmetic and wig ideas, sky is the limit.
Lady Sarah is Queen Anne’s friend from childhood, so their relationship goes a long way back, and through time it evolves into a tilted cohabitation that Sarah appears as the wire-puller behind the closed door, to cow Anne into her side during the ongoing Whig versus Tory dissension. So the advent of the arriviste Abigail temporarily tilts the balance back into a circumflex structure, and Her Majesty obviously enjoys being adored and fought by both, only when she finally makes her choice, she will realize what will be lost forever.
Colman holds court magnificently, her queen Anne is a fine mix bag of pathos (17 dead heirs and their corresponding rabbits), puerility (“you look like a badger!”), augustness (that change of mind one-take in front of an unflinching close-up) and caprices (chronically dogged by ailment has a heavy toll), perceptively strengthens the story’s backbone to show us the appreciable incongruity between what makes for a competent sovereign and the foibles stemmed from a full-fledged human being wracked by loneliness and wanting for that little thing called love. Colman’s Oscar victory is at a premium because not every character actress has such luck to be vested with a juicy leading part, and she also has the advantage of the role’s stature, which naturally pushes her two co-stars into the supporting category, Colman’s star is inexorably rising, with the pending new season of THE CROWN, her legacy is here to stay.
Rachel Weisz is also in cracking form, to a point her rapier-like address and impassive nuances even suggest an entirely different story, it piques a viewer to wonder, whip smart as she is, why Lady Sarah would condone the none-too-subtle schemer Abigail (resorting to blurt to get Queen’s attention is quite desperate) to freewheel all the way to Anne’s bed? Especially after the poison incident, she chooses not to level with the Queen, only lashing out two fat slaps to express her wrath, why? Maybe, it is Sarah who has been planning a safer exit route from her almighty lover, to whom her passion has petered out (“Love has limitation!” she exclaims!), but dreading the complications, she might as well deliberately and surreptitiously facilitate Abigail to supersede herself (making her the lady of the bedchamber and creating opportunities for her to meet Anne), and finally, she can retreat to her own family with minimal collateral damage incurred (checking her final scene, her inscrutable look exudes more elation than disappointment). Of course, the aforementioned theory solely relies on Weisz’s performance, which attests how good and versatile she is, and how can one tell she is actually 4 years senior than Colman?
Among the troika, Emma Stone has the most predictable narrative to pull off, an ingratiating social climber who is short on self-knowledge, treats a neurotic queen, the one who can readily off her head, with a certain frivolity before she can firmly secure her position, also Stone has the accent barrier to surmount, yet she skillfully adjusts herself to Lanthimos’ kooky rhythm with admirable aplomb and offhand humor. Lastly, although male characters are primarily demoted to ridicule, Nicholas Hoult’s Tory leader Robert Harley, elicits enough buffoonery with ingrained hauteur, obstinacy and lassitude amid all the distaff intrigues, for once, the view is splendid from the sidelines, for anyone who doesn’t harbor too big a male ego, that is.