Favourite review Olivia Colman Rachel WeiszYear: 2018
Director(s): Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer(s): Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
Region of Origin: UK, US, Ireland
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: R
Color, 119 mins

Synopsis: In early 18th century England, Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah governs the country in her stead. When a new servant named Abigail arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. (Source)

In the Age of Trump, fragile egos and farcical political power struggles, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite carries the most agonizing sting. The pain here is a very specific one, and most of it feels ripped from modern headlines. Lanthimos and writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara take generous liberties with their historical facts, but yield an irresistible and irreverent look at the past in order to face our present. In other words, this costume drama ain’t like the others. It’s laced together by an endless display of gleeful nihilism, throwing in sprinkles of genuine terror and poignancy for good measure. Armed with a sharp script and even sharper direction, Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone deliver evolving performances, each of which win our favor at one point or another. In the end, the film’s political and personal critique is as revolting as can be, charting an escalation of survival as a trio of fascinating characters run amok.

In 1711 Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is struggling to guide England through a prolonged war with France. Those in her court are divided on the matter and tensions are rising by the minute. Even further, Anne’s loyal but fierce advisor, Sarah (Rachel Weisz), seems to have a her own plans on the matter. With the Queen’s compliant ear, she’s silently nudging things toward her own agenda. Still, the two have an unsaid bond, and each get what they want from this unique relationship. All of this is thrown for a loop when Sarah’s cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone), enters the picture. A disgraced woman hoping to be of service, Abigail’s ideals quickly threaten the order of things. It doesn’t take long for her well-meaning to capture the Queen’s allegiance, engaging the women on a collision course of wits. From here, each woman is tested, questioning their role in a bigger picture as they wrestle for relevance and power.

To no surprise, Lanthimos’ latest is a dense romp without a single thing going to waste. Like it’s characters, the film is never quite what we think it is. It can be a prestige drama one minute, then a political satire, revenge film or sex comedy the next. Sometimes it’s all of these things at once. Skipping genres without batting an eye, Lanthimos’ deft command of the material is astounding. What ties it all together are the horrific implications behind the war raged by its conflicted women. To that end, each character is given equal footing. The more we see of Anne, Sarah and Abigail, the deeper they get. Lanthimos presents their tenuous relationship like a perverse game. As these women push their personal limits and test those of their prey, the stakes are heartbreaking. Lives are literally in the balance for the sake of an uncomplicated whim or bout of jealousy. As a viewer, we never know who to trust, with Lanthimos painting a portrait of integrity and friendship marred by human frailty.

Favourite review Emma StoneLike any good character piece, the strength of Lanthimos’ film is his ensemble. Colman, Weisz and Stone are as piercing as they’ve ever been. These three are rapturous together, but are multi-faceted and infinitely more when paired off against one another. At the risk of saying too much, each performer gets a chance to shine, and their characters create an inextricable ensemble that plays off each other in ways we can’t foresee. There is a lot of nuance between the trio, and they keep us on our toes, earning a myriad of emotions through each action. Rounding out the mix, Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn add to the chaos, with performances that push things even further.

Without question, Lanthimos has again managed to push his skills further. This is a film that’s needed now, and in a way that we can’t resist. It’s incredible that a film so wickedly fun can also be utterly sobering. Sure, Lanthimos has us defenseless against the film’s deadpan attacks, but there’s also a powerful urgency that we can’t or shouldn’t shake. Ultimately, The Favourite is intimate and personal, but manages to paint a broader picture of political incompetence, savage selfishness and stark extremes. It’s sad but also unrelentingly lively. All of this renders a bleak cautionary tale. As the film exploring ideas that gnaw at all of our frailties, it brings to life a battle in which no one wins. And if you aren’t frightened by what transpires, then you aren’t really paying attention.

SG