The Favourite – starring Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Nicholas Hoult among others – is a period piece of the early 18th century. The film centres on an ageing Queen Anne and her relationship with two of her female romantic partners: Lady Sarah (Weisz) and Abigail (Stone). As Anne and Sarah enjoy a behind-closed-doors relationship while the country is at war with France, the arrival of Sarah’s cousin Abigail creates some tensions, and the situation soon transforms into an under-the-table game of chess between the two, vying for the favour of the queen. The film was nominated for ten Oscars, winning for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Olivia Coleman.
My first piece of information about this film was that it was directed by a guy called Yorgos Lanthimos. For those of you who don’t know, by virtue of which you may or may not be better off, Yorgos Lanthimos directed a film called The Lobster; one of the strangest films ever to have been on screen. For the sake of my sanity I’ll avoid going into detail about it, suffice it to say I have never seen such an odd and yet altogether fascinating film in my life. With that predisposition in my head, it wasn’t surprising to me that I found The Favourite equal part strange and equal part mesmerising. There are moments of deep rooted discomfort, not necessarily from scenes that would obviously be so, which make your skin crawl. At the same time, there are scenes that are so indescribably funny, in as sudden and unapologetic ways as they physically could be and then some; that you find yourself just confused. It’s a strange experience, but a fun one as it’s happening.
Olivia Coleman’s Oscar is well deserved, in her portrayal of the vital and simultaneously senile Queen Anne. Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are on more or less equal footing, making for a very entertaining power-play between them. Weisz starts off somewhat inconsistently, but it becomes clear quite early on that there might not be an actress on earth who could have pulled off the sardonic, manipulating, and downright bullying devil-with-a-plastic-halo that is Sarah Marlborough. Stone’s occupation of the uncomfortable bits far exceeds that of Weisz, so I honestly can’t say I enjoyed her on screen as much, but she’s an incredibly talented actress and she shows it per her standard. Nicholas Hoult, someone who I didn’t even know was in the film till I saw him, delivers far and away the most underrated and funniest performances on screen.
He’s helped, of course, by a wickedly funny screenplay, part of which is responsible for the inherent weirdness of the film. For a period-piece, there’s a modernity about the humour. I can’t really explain it any better without giving an example, which I’d rather avoid doing so that I don’t take away from the funny if and when you see the film yourself. Suffice it to say there’s a few instances of what should be out-of-place colloquialism which, instead of being alien in the context of the film, adds a strangely delightful note to the humour of the film. It’s not all-pervading, but it is sprinkled sporadically in such a way that it only seems slightly odd to you until you’re reflecting on the film. A combination of that, some equally hilarious and altogether more tonally appropriate bits, and some ridiculous acting by Olivia Coleman add up to one of the funniest films of the year.
A quick note about aesthetic, an all-important component of any period piece. The set and shot of this film reminds me a lot of a film called The Other Boleyn Girl, another film about two women one-upping each other to earn the favour of royalty. It’s possible that I’m just not all that well-versed in this genre, but the set could have been much the same and the same shaded-dark filter is definitely a feature in both films. It’s really quite distinctive and interesting, and the naturalism of it all just highlights the out-of-place and yet jaw-dropping comic relief. It’s continually juxtaposed, however, with this deeply unsettling underside of the film. I just can’t stop saying it because it’s so strange and uncomfortable that you find yourself saying “oh my god,” over and over again to yourself in both situations; out of mirth for the funny parts and out of severe discomfort when they blast horror-movie violins while they have a two-minute close-up on Emma Stone’s face for no apparent reason. There’s an extent to which, close to the end of the film, when the humour’s all but dried up and only the weird underbelly remains, that you’ll be hoping each minute of the film is its last. Until then, you’ll be royally entertained.
All in all, this is strange film. I’d have expected exactly nothing less from the same guy who made The Lobster (maybe if I’m feeling weird one day I’ll write a review for it, in the meantime just look it up you’ll know what I mean), and I was not disappointed. That said, it’s also one of the funniest I’ve seen in a long time, and for that credit goes to some daring writing, unbelievable performances, and goddamned tonal juxtaposition. I worry that I haven’t really done justice here; there’s a lot that you can’t really explain without examples in terms of the weird parts of the film as well as the funny parts. I’d encourage you to watch the film so as to really understand the artistry and insanity that is the mind of Yorgos Lanthimos.
– Aman Datta
Aman’s Score – 81/100 Aryamaan’s Score –