Prepare to be wowed by Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, a delicious and unique period drama with three Oscar-contending performances at its heart, which proves a feast for the eyes. Leading the ensemble is Olivia Colman, in a career-defining turn as Queen Anne that earned her Best Actress at this year’s Venice Film Festival, and puts her firmly at the head of the pack in next year’s awards season.
She’s matched by two outstanding performances from Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, the latter working with Lanthimos for the first time (both Colman and Weisz starred in The Lobster). Weisz beautifully etches Lady Sarah, childhood friend to Queen Anne and the only person able to tame her unpredictable nature, while Stone is pitch-perfect as her scheming cousin, Abigail, a social climber seeking work at the palace. What emerges is a subtle, delicious rivalry played by two actors at the top of their game.
After the Oscar- nominated Dogtooth and The Lobster, plus the critically acclaimed The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, The Favourite is Lanthimos’ first foray into history. The film explores the shifting dynamics of its multi-dimensional female characters, but does it with typical Lanthimos bravura. This is no stuffy corset drama: with stunning visuals (including breathtaking use of a fisheye lens), we get a front-row seat for all the beautifully poised backstabbing as the relationships between the central trio become increasingly tangled.
Lanthimos’ signature dark comedy is undeniable in The Favourite, but there are moments of real emotion between the trio, as their predicaments become more transparent. Each has her own cross to bear: Abigail may appear power-hungry, but her options outside the palace are far less favourable than cosying up to the queen; Sarah’s position as the Queen’s right hand is under threat; and Anne wrestles with her own ill-health and insecurities, which themselves are a product of a lifetime of misfortunes.
Supporting the trio of leading ladies, a tantalising array of British talent flex their comedic muscles. A dashing Nicholas Hoult gives a memorable performance as Harley, Lady Sarah’s nemesis, and wearer of excellent wigs; Joe Alwyn plays Abigail’s wide-eyed betrothed, Masham; and Mark Gatiss is Sarah’s husband, Lord Marlborough, who’s fighting the war in France that’s bankrupting Britain under Anne’s rule.
The screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara is razor-sharp and witty, granting us a glimpse into a stunningly realised world we haven’t seen before. This is pageantry, but with a debauched flavour: indoor duck races and pelting bewigged men with pomegranates hold sway in Queen Anne’s court.
As such, there’s also an undeniable streak of punk running through The Favourite, amplified by its lavish production values. Legendary costume designer Sandy Powell kits out her cast with breathtakingly detailed finery. Queen Anne’s court is full of pomp and circumstance, a candle-lit world (ravishingly captured by cinematographer Robbie Ryan), where the men are more made up than the women. In every way you can think of, The Favourite upturns conventions and expectations.
Scooping the Grand Jury Prize alongside Colman’s win at Venice Film Festival this year, The Favourite is shaping up to be Lanthimos’ most extravagant, most accessible film yet. If you’re looking to find a new favourite filmmaker, this is a great place to start.