Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn
Run Time: 120 mins
The Favourite is the new film by Yorgos Lanthimos, a director who has proved himself a big talent in the film industry. Starting out making films in his Greek homeland, Lanthimos first came to prominence when he made Dogtooth, an interesting coming-of-age drama with a disturbing edge. After making Alps, he transitioned to English-language pieces with films such as The Lobster, another absurd and somewhat dystopian drama. Most recently, he directed the deeply unnerving The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which I consider to be his best work so far. Both of these films, as well as his earlier Greek works, are all works rich in meaning and contain fascinating, psychologically challenging characters who speak with Lanthimos’ signature arch dialogue. The Favourite is a period drama set in the court of Stuart-monarch Queen Anne who struggles to rule the country and is presented as quite child-like in that she wants people to think the best of her. She enjoys eccentric activities such as racing ducks and tending to her collection of rabbits, who represent her lost children. Rachel Weisz’s Sarah Churchill essentially controls the Queen like her puppet but when her impoverished cousin, Abigail comes looking for employment, the two start vying for the Queen’s approval and courtship, with sinister methods.
The Favourite is another odd film from Lanthimos and isn’t the natural project one would expect a director of his background to take. It retains his directorial identity, with some archly constructed characters and a generally sharp and bitter script. There are some memorable exchanges and some funny moments, as well as some creepy and disturbing diversions as expected from him.
But The Favourite strangely feels like it has lost a lot of Lanthimos’ identity as a director in that tonally, the film doesn’t nail the distinction between the drama and the humour like his other films did. It feels oddly more corporate and more toned-down than it should be, which made for a bit of a frustrating watch. I think the reason The Favourite doesn’t quite deliver is due to the fact that Lanthimos isn’t working from a script that he wrote with his regular collaborator, Efthymis Filippou. This script is written by duo Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and whilst it’s a good script, the characters feel a lot more vanilla than how Lanthimos would have interpreted them as. Furthermore, whilst Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is interesting and disorientating with wide angles, it lacks the claustrophobia and nightmarish atmosphere of Lanthimos’ regular collaborator Thimios Bakatakis.
The performances in this film have been widely acclaimed and all three of the actresses are very good in their roles. Olivia Colman is expectedly great as Queen Anne but I don’t think it’s her best performance – far more deserving of Awards attention would be for her performance in Tyrannosaur where she is just jawdropping. Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are good as well and have good chemistry together but again, both have done better work.
Overall, The Favourite is a good film and represents an interesting transformation for the period drama genre, making it feel rather contemporary. However, it is Lanthimos’ weakest film in that it lacks a lot of his signature style and it is tonally flawed. It also lacks the weight that his other films have and that is what makes them so memorable and unnerving. Whilst it’s obviously great to see Lanthimos get Awards attention as he has deserved it for a while, it’s annoying that it’s for his weakest film and this is rather reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s success last year for Dunkirk. I will certainly rewatch The Favourite again as there are things I think I will pick up from it on a second viewing but my first impressions are that is a suitably odd and strange work that lacks the heft of Lanthimos’ previous works.