A sudden turn into 18th century costume drama-comedy isn’t a move you’d expect from filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. The Greek director became known for his eccentric, surrealist films (Dogtooth, The Lobster), a far cry from the grounded nature of his latest release. But, it’s clear that The Favourite couldn’t have been directed by anyone else – in fact, it might just be his best film yet.
In telling this dynamic story of a power struggle between two women vying for the affection of the Queen, Lanthimos has crafted a sumptuous tale of manipulation and rivalry with a humour that could only come from the darkly comic mastermind.
What really sets The Favourite apart from Lanthimos’ previous films is the empathy he allows his characters. Never does the cruelty of this fierce battle of wits feel misguided or in excess, as it’s all played with genuine pathos in three wonderful central performances.
Emma Stone’s conniving turn as Abigail Hill is perfectly matched by Rachel Weisz’s impeccably costumed, no-nonsense Sarah Churchill – but the most impressive is Olivia Colman, who brings a touching humanity to the oft-ridiculed Queen Anne. She plays a character that could easily have been portrayed as caricature but Colman keeps her grounded with a perfect balance of comedy and tragedy.
But those fearing that the lack of Lanthimos’ trademark nihilism may represent him losing his touch have nothing to worry about as The Favourite is deeply funny, employing its black comedy with an elegance rarely seen in the genre. The power struggle between Abigail and Sarah works on both a dramatic and comedic level, proving a riot to watch as each player becomes embroiled in webs of alliances that highlight the petty, farcical nature of the royal court in a satirical way.
From fish-eye lenses that highlight the loneliness of the vast, decadent palace setting to the whip-pans that desperately try to keep up with shifting power dynamics of the central trio – The Favourite is a film bleeding with a style that makes it all the more intoxicating. It’s a concoction so masterfully told that by the time the credits roll, you’ll want to sit through it all over again.