Unlike “ The Lobster” ( reviewed here June 19, 2016 ) and “ The Killing of A Sacred Deer” ( Jan. 26, 2018), the new Yorgos Lanthimos film is not written by him. Writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara are less ambiguous in intent;and therefore,the theme of “The Favourite” is much easier to discern than Lanthimos’ other films. The nilhilistic elements softened.
His new film is a parody of sorts about power and self-interest. “How goes the kingdom?” comes in second to “How goes me?”. Self-indulgence is rampant. The sub-text may be “entitlement sucks”. “The Favourite” leaves the entitled wallowing in self-pity, anyway.
Part historical period piece, “The Favourite” centers on personal relationships and how these relationships impact the larger world, especially when our actors are women balancing world power. Our setting here is early eighteenth-century England. The last of the Stuart monarchs, Queen Anne is in her six-year-reign ( 1702-1707 ). Olivia Colman embodies the gout-ridden dyspeptic, who has not been able to produce an heir though she has been pregnant seventeen times. She comforts herself with cages of rabbits, one for each lost child.
Her childhood friend, Sarah Jennings Churchill, an ancestor of Winston, wheedles her way into becoming “Keeper of the Privy Purse”. Rachel Weisz continues her work under Director Lanthimos in the part of the wily Sarah, now The Duchess of Marlborough. We see her handling the affairs of state as well as the Queen. Sex and nostalgia are used to stay in favor.
Conflict begins when Sarah’s poor cousin, Abigail Hill ( Emma Stone ) rides into court hoping for a secure position. Competition ensues as both vie for being the Queen’s best bud.
Abigail begins as a scullery maid and her colleagues gloat in her mistakes. When she oversteps her station, we see her taking “ six of the birch” and sharing soap on a rope to cleanse her stripped and whipped back.
Hazy natural light meshes with candlelabra glow to give viewers tapestry delights of manor house grace. There are plenty of close-ups and fish-eye views of cupid-bow lips and wheel-chair races. Bathing in chocolate, throwing persimmons at naked men, and dancing between venison puffs and pineapples highlights the excess. When the war with France is equated with a party, we understand selfish displays and the toll.
Lanthimos is king of the visual. The cinematography of
Robbie Ryan is a joy. Horseback riding never looked more freeing even if the gallop ends with pulling mushrooms for a fungal paste to be slathered on the Queen’s swollen legs. Ryan’s camera‘s whip-pan movement is both stylized and modern. Sixteen century estates are panoramic yet intimate. Fish-eye lens give close-ups a character-penetrating feel. Movement and light are used beautifully.
The bunny squashing and the superimposed rabbits over the faces of our female lovers is creepy and wierd, but it works as oddball humor that is emotionally affecting. Likewise, the fabulous score underscores each character’s movement, both physically and emotionally. ( My one critique being the final- almost country western- song as the credits rolled. What was that?)
The dialogue is sharp. Lady Marlborough’s “Let’s shoot something!” And the Queen’s “ Rub my legs.” belies the manipulation and palace intrigue. Once Abigail “wins” and the Marlboroughs are banished, we are left with ermine studded garb, duck liver, and no ecstasy whatsoever.
In the final shot, Queen Anne’s loveless face equates with sad meaninglessness. Abigail produces one tear and one nostril drip for her trouble, and the bunnies just keep copulating. Prepare for creative debauchery of the female sort with a sad/funny tone akin to our times.