NYFF Review: ‘The Favourite’

The Favourite | Yorgos Lanthimos | NYFF 2018

The Favourite seems like the film that director Yorgos Lanthimos has been heading towards his whole career. Following 2009’s much-acclaimed Dogtooth, and the well-received but audience-puzzling features The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer in 2015 and 2017, The Favourite is arguably his most mainstream ready picture to date.

That’s not to say that there isn’t that natural quirkiness and signature black comedic style that comes with all of the director’s work, but there’s no doubt that The Favourite is a film that more audiences will be able to more readily enjoy.

It’s the year 1708 and Britain, under the leadership of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is at war with France. But the Queen isn’t in the best of shape health-wise and she really has no interest in dealing with the “ruling” aspects of the job. She leaves that to her adviser and secret lover, Sarah (Rachel Weisz), the Duchess of Marlborough.

They have a nice dynamic going, one that is about to shift with the sudden arrival of Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s younger cousin. She comes looking for a job as a maid but sees a chance to grab the Queen’s eye and slowly but steadily move up the ladder, much to the dismay of the jealous Sarah.

Lanthimos has a steady grasp on the period piece, making use of the set pieces, costumes and the dialogue and embracing the nuttiness of it all while also giving it a modern twist that is very much his own, with interesting choices such as his and cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s decision to use fisheye lenses in many of the interior shots to showcase the vastness of space that these ancient room behold.

The strong suit of the film is the love triangle and rivalry between all three women who are playing different games with one another. The game of back and forth and pettiness is a true treat to watch unfold, thanks to three truly great performances from Colman, Stone and Weisz, all perfectly worthy for Oscar nominations. Just good luck trying to figure out who is leading and who is supporting.

Along with our leading ladies, there’s some memorable and rather hilarious work from Nicholas Holt as Robert Harley, a man who opposes The Queen and really Sarah’s rule, and Joe Alwyn as Samuel Masham, a young man who falls for Abigail.

But make no mistake, this is the female trio’s film and they deliver a trio of performances for the ages. While the film rides the wave of black comedy for a good chunk of its runtime, it takes a more subtle and darker turn that requests a few more viewings to really properly digest. But it’s hard to ignore just how good that everything that came before was, confirming that this will indeed be a major player come Oscar season and it’s completely well deserved.

Rating: 8.8/10