BFI London Film Festival: The Favourite

The Favourite
The Favourite
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn
Screening at LFF October 18th, 19th and 21st 2018

by Joanna Orland

In early 18th century Britain, England is at war with France, while an ailing Queen Anne (Colman) relies heavily on her devoted friend Lady Sarah (Weisz) for political advice and companionship. When Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Stone) arrives at the Palace and worms her way in to the Queen’s bedside, a harsh rivalry forms between the two women as they fight a pernicious battle to win the Queen’s favour. Lady Sarah uses her position as the Queen’s confidant to manipulate political favour in the matters of the war and greater politics of Britain. Abigail’s aim is to restore her social status to once again become a Lady.

Loosely based on historical events, The Favourite is a refreshing take on the Period Drama. With director Yorgos Lanthimos’ uniquely dark sense of humour and distinct tone fully on display, the film becomes a game of one-upmanship, with powerful and hilarious performances at the forefront. Rachel Weisz as Lady Sarah is stern and dry in her wit, while Emma Stone as Abigail is manipulatively charming with a perfect English accent in her repertoire. But it is Olivia Colman as Queen Anne who overshadows all other performances, even with what feels like less screen time than the others. Colman plays the Queen somewhat like a bratty child, but with the pathos of a woman who has had multiple tragedies befallen her. For an actress who has an array of many brilliant performances in her body of work, Colman manages to outshine even herself in a career best.

The director’s unique use of inflection in the dialogue and tone of the film is not the only technical greatness of The Favourite. Wide angle distorted shots frame the scenes and the costumes are mesmerizing to look at, even by the standards of a Costume Drama. The saturated colours enhance the bleakness of the story and characters’ plights, all the while never detracting from the jocular dialogue.

If there is any criticism or flaw to be found in The Favourite, it lies in its ending. Lanthimos repeatedly makes extremely bold films with slightly weak finales. The Lobster – the first English language film by the Greek director – is a cynical work of genius, bar lasting for one shot too long. His follow-up, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, also a cynical masterpiece, builds with humourous tension and tragedy, only to be concluded with unmemorable final moments. The Favourite being a raucous gem for the bulk of its duration, fizzles out and fades away with an ending strong on symbolism, but light on impact. Not that a film like this needs a happy-ending or everything neatly wrapped up for the audience, but with such an audacious film that precedes the final moments, something to pack a punch would have been nice; instead, the film whimpers away towards the end credits.

Any flaw in the film’s ending is eclipsed by the film’s brilliant wit and performances. A black comedy for the ages, The Favourite will have little trouble winning your favour.


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