Let me begin this review with my final statement: The Favourite is magnificent, go and see it. You can stop reading now. Still here? Okay, let the gushing begin! It has been quite some time since I’ve seen a film where the performances match – exceeded even – the hype.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ film is an exceptional piece of work. Admittedly I am a little biased, having loved one of his previous works, The Lobster. The Favourite is a very different beast. Resembling another classic piece of cinema, All About Eve, in its story, The Favourite explores more pertinently the personal impact of each individual’s actions.
In this past awards season, Olivia Coleman has, rightfully, received widespread praise and recognition for her performance as sickly, petulant and willfully manipulative ruler, Queen Anne in eighteenth-century England.
Though Coleman’s performance is glorious, it works so well because of Rachel Weisz ’s absorbing dark and powerful portrayal as Lady Sarah Churchill, along with Emma Stone’s slyly cruel showing as Sarah’s seemingly sweet but duplicitous cousin, Abigail Masham.
Weisz’s Sarah is the Queen’s lady-in-waiting and her secret lover. She uses her position and close proximity to the Queen to exercise influence over matters of state and the war with France. When her down-on-her-luck cousin Abigail arrives at the Queen’s court, asking for work, she allows her to stay.
Confident of her status and given no reason to fear her young cousin’s arrival, Sarah focuses her attention on influencing the Queen’s decisions with regards to the war. Abigail, a lowly maid, is treated poorly by the other maids, who mistrust her and dislike her due to her relationship with Sarah.
When the Queen’s gout acts up and causes her great suffering, Abigail sees an opportunity and finds a root in the forest that helps to ease her pain. Initially, offended by her forwardness, Sarah has her beaten.
But when she finds that the treatment helped her Queen, she takes Abigail under her wing. Abigail is now where she wants to be and makes it her mission to better herself and her station in life, regardless of the consequences or impact on others.
As I alluded to earlier, The Favourite is almost a parallel in story to the classic All About Eve. Rachel Weisz’s Lady Sarah is like Bette Davis’ Margo Channing, a star at the peak of her powers, not seeing her possible downfall until it is too late.
Emma Stone’s Abigail is almost exactly like the eponymous Eve Harrington. She shows a deferential willingness initially, but ruthlessly exploits the weakness and opportunities that are presented to her.
So who is Olivia Coleman’s Queen Anne in this parallel, you may ask? She is Hollywood. She is the one who makes or break someone. Without the Queen, the other two have no reason to exist or be.
Besides the exceptional central performances, the script of this film and cinematography are the stars of this film. The palace looks grandiose and claustrophobic at the same time, especially with clever use of some fisheye lenses on occasion. The evening scenes, when characters move about the vast building with only candlelight, are wonderfully atmospheric.
There are so many fantastic walking shots, where the camera just follows either Sarah or Abigail as they stride along or away from the Queen’s quarters. Lanthimos takes the decision to use tracking, as opposed to steady-cam, when walking along the corridor, so there is none of the slightly rough, skewed movement you get in so many modern films.
The script, by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, is a delight. Intelligent without being unintelligible. Set against the backdrop of a war, with a fragile monarchy and a caustic, straight-talking, lady-in-waiting and sneaky youngster, all women, all compelling.
The men in the film are both important and unimportant. That is to say that when they are in the story, they serve their purpose, but never detract or are compelling enough to be explored. Also, they help to remind us how women were generally viewed in that time period, especially with the early treatment of Abigail.
The Favourite is one of the best films of 2019 and is, in my opinion, deserving of all the awards and praise it has received. At two hours long, there are no wasted scenes or lulls that have you looking at your watch. Yorgos Lanthimos has crafted a masterpiece of a film. The Favourite is a magnificent film, go and see it.