The Favourite, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, was a delightfully self-indulgent film that I gleefully grinned throughout its bitingly clever dialogue and its incredibly nuanced characters. Watching as the film’s three main characters battled one another in the most deceptively sinister ways was something that… to put it bluntly: I gorged myself on every dark, comedically brilliant moment of. And now, I’m very excited to dive deep into all it has to offer. So, let’s stop with all the adjectives (in this intro, there’s about to be a whole lot of adjectives thrown your way throughout this review) and get on with things.
Set in early 18th century England, we follow an old frail queen; Queen Anne – played by Oliva Coleman – as she is trapped in the middle of a war of deception and lies between Lady Sarah – played by Rachel Weisz – and Abigail – played by Emma Stone. The two battle it out in the most unique of ways – primarily through the manipulation of Queen Anne – with the hopes of furthering their grasp on whatever power they have. Backstabbing, love, betrayal and attempted murder are just a few of the delights that are played with in this film, but who will come out victorious.
There’s much to love and gorge on in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, and for me the element I continually and unashamedly gorged on throughout was the delightfully cruel and nuanced characters, whom all were full of so much goodness to entice you in and keep you wanting more.
I always point it out in my reviews that: I’m a character kind of guy. If a film has great characters with multiple layers, and layers hidden within those layers, then I’m going to get lost in your film and fully enjoy every moment of exploration of them. The Favourite gave me that in droves and I never stopped enjoying myself; I don’t think a smile ever left my face – minus a few of the darker moments that opened my eyes to the true sadness of one of the characters in particular.
And what was it about these characters – these three resourceful women – that made them such a joy to watch? Well, much of it is the underhanded, agenda-infused way in which they all interact with one another; with it primarily being Lady Sarah and Abigail who have the agenda.
What’s incredible about the three main characters in this film is that each of them could easily lead a solo film. In their own ways, each of them are layered and rich in-depth enough that I could have happily spent time with any one of them and still felt like I was getting a story full of intrigue and drama. Now, you might think that characters with so much to offer might result in one being pushed to the side and not getting the same level of attention as the others, but that’s very much not the case.
What’s so great about the handling of the characters in this film is how they feed off of one another. They elevate one another and through their dealings, they evolve, and parts to their character that were once unknown become fully visible. It was also the case that with Lady Sarah and Abigail, I never knew where to stand with them. There were points where I was on the side of Abigail and hoping to see her succeed, only to later on be completely against her and hope Lady Sarah would see her get revenge. This flipping back and forth between the two happened a few times, and I never tiered of it; I relished it. Why? Well because it meant that those characters were never stagnant; they were forever altering my expectations and keeping me excited to see what cruel or deceitful thing they might do next to get ahead.
But for me, it was Queen Anne who was the character that intrigued me the most and pulled on my emotional heart strings a number of times. There was an inherent sadness to the character. While it was amusing to laugh at her silly outburst (at first) I soon became fully aware of the sadness and the paranoia that fuelled her everyday life. And what made it all the worse for her was how she was used by everyone around her – particularly Lady Sarah and Abigail – to gain more power or to see someone else’s reputation ruined. I felt for the character more and more, and her slow decent physically and mentally only intensified my feelings. And I also found myself conflicted because of the intentions of Lady Sarah and Abigail, who despite their using of Queen Anne, did in their own ways care deeply for the queen and saw the other as a genuine threat to her.
This is the magic of The Favourite. When you start talking about or thinking about one angle, you end up falling down a rabbit hole full of so many more twists and turns and all of them further your (my) intrigue in the film and in the characters and the story between them all. It’s a film that if you see with someone else, you’ll have infinite avenues of conversation to explore and dissect.
I also must heap all of my praise upon Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, who all completely relish in and become their characters to their fullest. The script they were working with (a script I’ll touch upon more in a moment) gave them so much to work with, and Lanthimos’ unique style is one all three actors played brilliantly with; Weisz being the standout – both because of her previous experience with the director in ‘The Lobster’ and her total mastery and understanding of what a Lanthimos film is. Truly brilliant work from all of them!
But for those not as invested in the never-ending offerings of its main characters, there is a continuous and darkly witty amount of comedy to keep you enjoying the madness, which much praise must be given to Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara for their infinitely witty script. Not only is the writing sharp and delectable – there were a few times where the bluntness of the comedy had me throwing my head back with pure satisfaction and amazement – but there’s also a great physicality to the comedy; which was made all the better by Lanthimos’ positioning of the camera; nicely bordered wide shots that allowed for the full scope of the comedy to shine on-screen.
And another reason to appreciate those wide shots is that The Favourite boasts what I believe to be the best cinematography of any of Lanthimos’ films yet – and a lot of that beauty is thanks to Lanthimos’ decision to work with cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, who really captures both the stunning architecture and style of the time, along with the hidden griminess that existed just a few steps away and around the corner.
I think it’s clear that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with The Favourite – I’m yet to see a Yorgos Lanthimos I haven’t enjoyed – but that isn’t to say the film isn’t without fault. There is one area in which The Favourite does stumble, and I think it’s a misstep that will see some people not enjoying the film as much as others. The problem lies in the film’s length and pacing. To put it simply: The Favourite stays around for longer than it needed too. The final act of the film begins to drag as it seemed to never-endingly circle an ending but never get to it. I personally wasn’t that bothered by it (because I was enjoying the film so much) but I could feel the once atmospheric fun the film was instilling in the audience, begin to get sucked out of the room.
Had the film not overstayed its welcome, I think the film would have concluded in a way that had people never losing engagement with the experience. I can also see some people being disappointed with the film’s final scene, but for me personally, I loved it and thought it to be such a perfect ending that said so much, by saying nothing at all.
In the end, The Favourite was a film I adored. Much like it indulged in all it had to play with, I fully indulged in all it had to offer. Once again, Yorgos Lanthimos delivers a film that stays with you and has your brain hurling it around the memory banks for quite some time after it has concluded.
I absolutely recommend, The Favourite. I could say some more adjective-filled ramblings right now, but what’s the point? Just do yourself the favour and go to the cinema and delight in this wonderfully dark, emotionally subtle film.
I’d love to know what you thought of The Favourite, and my review of it, so please leave any opinions or feedback you may have in the comments section down below. If you liked what you read, then please consider following my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. Anyway, I’ll stop rambling now and bring things to a close by offering you my sincere thanks. That you stopped by and gave my silly little blog a chance means so much, so thank you!