Across the pond in the U.S of A, January has a reputation of being the beginning of the “Dump period”, a time when studios release films that haven’t been heavily marketed and are not so great to begin with anyway. All the attention is drawn to preparations for the Academy Awards and Golden Globes. In good ol’ Blighty, however, there is no better time to go to the cinema as all of the films tipped for Best Picture are usually released at the turn of the new year. The Favourite is the beginning of 2019’s “Quality Road” as Yorgos Lanthimos, who has had a fantastic rise since Dogtooth, applies his own dramatic, comedic, sometimes vulgar take on Queen Anne’s court in the backdrop of a war with France.
The most credit I can give to The Favourite is the acting trio of Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone giving 110%. Trying to single out a standout performance is virtually impossible because the interactions of their individual characters in an intense love triangle, it collectively makes them as good as each other. At a stretch, I’d say Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne gives more, but I am letting bias get the better of me. She plays a depressed, on the brink of insanity ruler of 18th Century England with pure brilliance. There is no other performer working I want to see break into Hollywood more than Olivia Coleman, she’s one of the best acting talents working in the UK and it would be fantastic to see her in more high-profile roles, maybe Queen Anne is the door unlocking for her.
Fighting for the attention and heart of Queen Anne are Sarah (Rachel Weisz) who is her current servant and who is manipulative and who seemingly is the real authority figure and uses manipulation to influence the decisions of the crown. Her influence and relationship with Queen Anne is threatened when her cousin Abigail arrives having been bet away by her father. She is employed as a maid but wriggles her way into becoming friends (which also leads to a lover’s relationship) with Queen Anne, hence we have a lover’s triangle. The rivalry between Sarah and Abigail gets increasingly intense with the more devious ways of getting rid of the competition. However, the most impressive thing about this rivalry is how the audience reassesses the characters at the end of the film. These three characters are viewed very differently by the time the credits roll, they may not be as innocent or cold-hearted as you might initially think.
Many of you will quickly notice that the cinematography is very unique. Robbie Ryan has incorporated several uses of low panning shots using wide lenses. A look that is a little unconventional but seeing this technique being used on the screen reveals the isolation of Sarah and Abigail when they’re starting to lose the battle for favouritism. The way the lens shows the whole room, but the characters proportioned normally brings alive the distance in character relationships at different stages of the film. if you have seen the previous works of Lanthimos like Dogtooth and The Lobster, then this feeling created by the cinematography will be no stranger to you.
What took me back was how comedically vulgar it was. This may be too much for some, there are moments where the amount of foul language gives the film more of a parody feel in its humour (the slow-motion duck racing scene is brought to mind). However, once the humour does land, it does so that is fitting with the absurdity and strangeness of the film. Having gone in with little knowledge of The Favourite, I never knew about the comedy, but it will get a sizable laugh rate for people who favour vulgar humour.
There is a lot of confusion in The Favourite, but because of its narrative, it’s a good kind of confusion. The bad kind comes with the inclusion of title cards that chapters the different stages of the story. Styled to reflect distance, they bring the story to a halt just when things were getting interesting. It’s also very sharp how these title cards are brought in interrupting the audience. For me, it didn’t need to use title cards as I could have easily become more invested without the film interrupting me.
I always like to imagine that the first film I see every new year will fill me with anticipation and excitement for the many, many films to come. The Favourite has managed to get my hyped for 2019 and thinking this may be a good year for the unconventional. A period piece with fire in its belly, Yorgos Lanthimos is one of those directors who keeps improving little by little with every film. I was enthralled with a trio of powerhouse performances and its courage to explore in own unconventionalism in the cinematography. What a fantastic start for 2019 cinema.
Final Result: 8/10 – Very Good
Have you seen The Favourite? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: Stan & Ollie