With a good sample size of movies to go by, Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has shown himself to be an acquired taste. His films tend to operate on their own quirky wavelengths often within the punishing boundaries of his harsh worldview. His characters take the brunt, but he can be just as tough on his audience especially when he muddies the line between heartbreaking and nihilistic.
“The Favourite” features many of the same Lanthimos signatures but this time with a bigger foot in the real world. Set in early 18th century Britain and taking place almost exclusively on the grounds of the Royal Palace, the story follows a sickly Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her conniving court of opportunists.
At the movie’s core is the toxic trinity of the Queen, the Duchess of Marlborough Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), and Sarah’s ambitious cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone). To no surprise Lanthimos chose the more salacious (and generally discredited) interpretation of Anne’s relationship with both Sarah and Abigail. But to be fair he’s not going for an accurate depiction. It’s the framework he wants for his bitter and twisted tale.
As England wars with the French so to does Sarah and Abigail for the Queen’s affection (because along with the Queen’s affection comes position, power and influence). Nothing is too devious or too vile for these lovely human beings. Backstabbing, deception, sexual devilry – it’s all fair game. And this is the rest of the movie in a nutshell, two ruthless vipers duking it out for their own self-absorbed reasons. The only suspense is in which one will be left standing.
This is the first time Lanthimos hasn’t directed his own script. Instead Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara pen this verbally volatile period romp. Your enjoyment may hinge on your tolerance level for nasty behavior. It can be tough finding some level of heart but we do get a taste of it in Queen Anne. She’s a sad and pitiful woman plagued by crippling gout, unbearable grief, and a ton of insecurities. While Weisz and Stone are very good at peddling malevolence, Colman offers an occasional yet welcomed breather.
There are a handful of men scattered throughout the story. All of them are more or less pawns who the women manipulate for their good pleasure. It’s fun to watch. The best of the lot is Nicholas Hoult who is a hoot playing the slimy and subtly conniving Harley. He’s a politician with an agenda and I swear his wigs get bigger and more absurd with each new scene he’s in.
While I found plenty in the story to push back on, I certainly can’t argue against Lanthimos’ incredible sense of craft. His camera employs all sorts of intriguing perspectives, interesting lens tricks, and funky angles. Sometimes it’s tough to see what he’s trying to convey but it always looks fantastic. Chipping in are some gorgeous set designs and Sandy Powell’s exquisite costumes which Lanthimos definitely takes advantage of.
“The Favourite” shines brightest through its top-notch performances across the board and in the sheer beauty of the filmmaking. That light fades when you get down to the meat of the storytelling. The bitterness wore on me, it can be pointlessly coarse, and I didn’t laugh much at all (except at Hoult). Not good for a blue-blooded black comedy. So I end up where I often do with Yorgos Lanthimos films – somewhere in the middle between impressed and frustrated.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS
I loved it, man. It really too me aback with its craftsmanship. Such a gorgeous piece of filmmaking and it helped that I really responded to the dark humour. This is up there with the very of the year for me.
I love his craftsmanship. It doesn’t always make sense but I really don’t care because it’s so visually stunning. My problem was I never connected with the humor aside from Hoult. And I never found much depth to the story or any real emotional resonance. So I found myself stuck clinging to the craftsmanship and performances. I don’t know if any of that make sense! 😂
I get what you mean. Hoult was hilarious but the three female leads were also quite stunning. I found an emotional engagement with Colman which helped balance the humour but overall it was the blackness of the story that I loved most. Gleefully entertaining.
Did Hoult’s wigs seem to get crazier with each appearance????
Haha! Yes they did. I mention in my review that the only thing that upstages his performance are his hairpieces. 😂
YES!!! Freaking hilarious. I’ll come give you a read my friend.
Haha! I can see Hoult getting himself an Oscar nomination for it. I really thought he was that good.
I would be for that!
I saw this movie too. I think I would describe it as totally bizarre yet I couldn’t look away haha. Agree with you about the performances – all the cast was indeed top notch. Perhaps that’s what made it easy for me to stay in it.
The performances were definitely a strength. What did you think of Hoult? I found him to be fantastic but not many people are talking about him. Probably because of the immense strength of the female performances.
Agreed – he was fabulous in a movie that is hard to shine in with so many great performances!
I’m sorry you didn’t like this movie. I loved it, the pettiness of it all amused me so much. I hope Coleman wins an Oscar for this.
It was frustrating for me because there are so many things that I liked. I just found the story to be bitter for bitterness sake and a little bare-boned.
Sometimes I think that Instead of writing my own review, I should just copy and paste what you have written. I may have liked it a little better than you, but not by much. You are enjoying the wigs, which I agree are amusing. I on the other hand was annoyed by the fonts. How is that for being picky.
Ha Ha! I’m just glad to hear I’m not alone! I get the praise for the performances but I don’t quite get the love for the film as a whole. It just didn’t connect with me like it apparently did many others. I found its entire premise to be pretty flimsy.
Interesting. I’ve only read high reviews. I can’t wait to see it now to see where I fit on the scale. I hope it hurries up and gets to a theater near me!
This is another one of those examples of me being in the minority. There are some really good performances and the movie looks incredible. But storywise there isn’t much past the toxic wrangling between Rachel and Emma. I also found it to be forcibly (and needlessly) provocative at times. I guess I was expecting a lot more. I am anxious to see where you land on it.
I don’t care for gratuituous sex and courseness, so yes, if its all style over substance, it will lose it’s effectiveness for me. We’ll see!
To be fair there isn’t a load of gratuitous sex. But I found the way it was used to be eye-rolling. The lines of coarse dialogue (especially one crude word which the screenwriters apparently love) feel forced more than genuine. I dunno.
I can’t wait to check it out.
Interesting to get a different take. Had only read positive reviews.
I’m thinking I’m just out of the loop on this one. Seems like everyone else really loves it.
I had that with Boyhood. I didn’t like it at all.
Ha! And I loved that one! 😂 That actually turned out to be a fairly divisive movie. I started hearing several people talk about it not working for them. And I can see why.
The idea is brilliant. Bit the main kid was annoying. Especially at the end in his college phase. Really didn’t like it and the fact that for me not enough happened. I thought of it though as the BBC conducted a poll for best films of 21 century and that was right up there so I know I’m not with the critics in that one.
That happens. It’s happened to me twice this past week! LOL. And it’s probably going to happen again early next week! 😉
I really want to see this as based on the 2 films of Lanthimos that I’ve seen so far… I’m intrigued by its subject matter. Maybe it will work for me. I’m just waiting for it to arrive at my local multiplex.
It has worked for most others. Just couldn’t get invested in anything that was going on. The release schedule has been pretty weird.
So you and I may be amongst the few people who weren’t enamored for this. I’ve enjoyed Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous films for their bleak humor, but the comedy here seems a lot broader and the target of the British monarchy feels pretty obvious. I did like Colman’s performance, but I was disappointed.
Did you catch the film in a 35mm or digital projection? I saw it in DCP at a local AMC and the shots looked grainy and oversaturated.
So glad to read that others felt similar about this movie. I had a really hard time finding humor that I actually found to be funny. I did enjoy the performances (Hoult deserves more attention). As the viewing, it was digital and some shots did look grainier than others but I wondered if it were by design? Not sure what it would accomplish, but….
Yeah, I was definitely perplexed if the graininess was intentional because it seems so glaring. I heard a lot of comparisons between this and Barry Lyndon, but Stanley Kubrick and John Alcott would never have had shots with any grain.
Very true. And I felt Lanthimos was doing some tricks with the camera that seemed purposeless. For example, the few instances of shooting through a rounded lens. No idea what he was trying to convey if anything.
I laughed a lot during this – indeed Hoult was hilarious – but I was also very sad because of Anne’s back story. All in all it is my fav movie by Yorgos, other ones were just too unpleasant
I wish I had that experience. I sat stone-faced most of the time except when Hoult was on screen. Just too bitter and sour for me and without much of a point.
Premise reminds me a little bit of “Victoria & Abdul” (which I enjoyed).
This is actually a much different movie. There certainly isn’t the warmth in this movie that V&A has.