The Favourite is the newest film by director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer). It is about a frail Queen Anne during the early 18th century as her favoritism shifts between her friend, Lady Sarah, and a new servant, Abigail. It debuted at the 2018 Venice Film Festival and has been picking up great reviews and awards buzz ever since.
This is the first English-language movie by Yorgos Lanthimos which he did not also write, yet it nonetheless still very much feels like a film by him. It contains many of the quirks of Lanthimos’s style, with the major exception being that the dialogue does not feel as cold and flat as in his other movies. It still contains the same rapid dialogue, dark sense of humor and cynicism towards humanity.
The main issue with the film is that it does not have the excellent pacing of Lanthimos’s other work. Usually, his movies build and compound suspense. This film is much more straightforward, feeling almost melodramatic. It is still extremely enjoyable, but it isn’t as absorbing or atmospheric as you would hope.
The characters are amazingly complex. The script is surprisingly effective at humanizing Queen Anne despite the fact that she is literally royalty. She is immensely sympathetic and does a great job of running the film. On the other hand, Abigail and Lady Sarah are dynamically-written. The audience switches between loving and hating each of them multiple times over the course of the story.
The movie is also absolutely hilarious. There are multiple scenes throughout that caused the audience to roar in laughter. The humor is perhaps more accessible than that of Lanthimos’s other movies because it is slightly less deranged, although still dark. The caustic wit of the script also goes a long way towards making the film more enjoyable. Additionally, there are elements of physical comedy throughout that work really well.
The execution is very strong. The cinematography is some of the best of the whole year. The framing is absolutely wonderful, creating both a sense of extravagance and an unsettling tone. The movements are also phenomenal. The movie utilizes quite a few pans and tracking shots, and these are impressively smooth. Most intriguing about the camerawork, though, is the use of the fish-eye lens. This distorts the image, further building the tone.
The set design is amazing too. The film’s ability to transport the audience back to England in the 1700’s is admirable. The scale with which the palace was built is awe-inspiring. The attention to detail in the costuming is very exact as well. Another element that worked very well was the movie’s score. It is a blend of more classical music and the darker melodies characteristic of thrillers. This does a great job of building atmosphere.
However, the absolute best part of the film is its performances. Olivia Colman is being pushed as the lead and Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are being pushed as supporting actresses. Honestly, any of the three of them could have fit into either category. The three of them are all so good, yet somehow, no one overshadows anyone else. They are all given ample time to flex their chops. This was particularly daring work for Emma Stone, who has never done a role quite like this, and it works. This is her best performance. There are also some great performers in the supporting cast, like Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn. Alwyn actually has a few moments that rank among the funniest of the movie.
Overall, The Favourite is a very solid film. It isn’t quite a masterpiece, as it has some parts in which it drags, but it is enjoyable and extremely well-made. This is one not to miss.
The Favourite is now playing in select theaters and has an ongoing expansion.