'The Favourite' Nabs Five Golden Globe Nominations And Opens In San Diego
Director Yorgos Lanthimos serves up darkly comic period film
"The Draughtsman's Contract" (1982)
"Hot Fuzz" (2007)
"Killing of a Sacred Deer" (2017)
"The Favourite" is set in the 18th century court of England’s Queen Anne (a brilliant Olivia Colman who displayed very different comic skills in "Hot Fuzz") where Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone), a new servant, vie for the Queen's affection in a savagely funny portrait of love, power and ambition.
Anne was a real British monarch, but one that garnered little attention. There were no plays written about her and the BBC never devoted a series to her. But scriptwriter Deborah Davis — who is also a journalist and lawyer — saw something in Anne's life that piqued her interest.
In the press materials Davis said, "My focus was on the female triangle in Queen Anne’s bedchamber and this shift in Anne’s affections from Sarah to Abigail ... the original evidence for Abigail is sparse and comes mainly from Sarah [but] there were interesting snippets to be found elsewhere where Abigail emerges as a ruthless chambermaid, and her trajectory clearly reveals her ambition. My focus was always on the three women,” Davis said. “I wanted the audience to discover a period in 18th-century English history where women held power and influenced events on the British political and European stage.”
Perhaps that's why the initial title of her script was "Balance of Power." That is an accurate description of what goes on for the bulk of the film; it is all about three women jockeying for power and influence. But perhaps that title wasn't sexy enough for a movie. So once the script got picked up for production and director Yorgos Lanthimos and screenwriter Tony McNamara came onboard it eventually transformed into "The Favourite" with the British spelling of the word.
The film marks Lanthimos' first-period film. His previous work ("Dogtooth," "The Lobster," "The Killing of a Sacred Deer") were all contemporary in tone but all three created worlds completely of their own making. What I love about Lanthimos' work is how a sense of intense discomfort and dread runs through all three films. He leaves an audience unsettled and as with David Lynch's or David Cronenberg's films you cannot always put your finger on exactly what it is that is so disturbing. So many filmmakers want you to like them and want you to clearly understand everything in their films that I often feel bored or offended by their blandness. That's why I eagerly look forward to Lanthimos' films.
In discussing "The Favourite" in the press notes, he said, “When you make a film set in another time it is always interesting to see how it relates to our time — you realize how few things have changed apart from the costumes and the fact that we have electricity or internet. There are so many ongoing similarities in human behavior, societies and power.”
"The Favourite" serves up a darkly comic tale about how a new servant changes the dynamics of the queen’s relationship with Lady Sarah. But there are elements that reflect current politics as well.
Seeing this film sandwiched in between "Vice" (about Dick Cheney's vice presidency) and "Mary, Queen of Scots" (about the political struggle between Mary and the future Queen Elizabeth I) makes it clear how politics and the constant shifting of power is a timeless theme. Weisz' Lady Sarah comes across much like Christian Bale's Dick Cheney — strong, duplicitous people working behind the scenes to control the political maneuverings of a weaker person that the world perceives as the leader.
And both films show how the greed, ambition and selfishness of certain people in power can impact the world. It was quite fascinating to see how much "The Favourite" and "Vice" had in common and how both chose dark humor as the means by which to tell their story.
In "The Favourite" Lanthimos displays mastery of the cinematic form. Everything from the sometimes stark soundtrack to the disorienting fish-eye lens shots is employed to keep the audience uncomfortable and just a bit off-kilter. He serves up some beautiful locations and sets as the backdrop for thoroughly despicable people. He uses costume, makeup and hair to define the characters as either powerful or ridiculous. Everything in the film is executed with the precision of a coup.
Lanthimos displayed bold originality in his earlier films like "The Lobster" and "The Killing of a Sacred Deer." And my only real complaint about "The Favourite" is that he sacrifices some of his audacity for more mainstream appeal. His other films had a disquieting ambiguity that I loved. "The Favourite" is far more accessible with its story about jockeying for power. That scenario can also be found as I pointed out in this month's releases of "Mary, Queen of Scots" (where it is still women from the past in a power struggle) and in "Vice" (where it is an almost all-male modern power play).
"The Favourite" (rated R for strong sexual content, nudity and language) is savagely funny but not as complex as Lanthimos’ earlier films.