The Favourite

The Favourite

Emma Stone in The Favourite.

The Favourite is an accomplished, funny and clever film from Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. It’s arguably his most best, and certainly his most accessible film. An entertaining story of palace intrigue and powerplays beautifully shot amongst the decadence of Hampton Court Palace. In fact, Queen Anne spent little time there during her reign. This film is not about historical accuracy, although certainly the main players existed, and things broadly played out as described, although much of the detail is imagined. The brilliance of this film, however, is in the storytelling, and how Lantimos brings to bear his skills as a filmmaker, along with an extraordinarily talented cast, to create a story that is enthralling and funny, and poignant all at once. A story of love, loss, madness and political intrigue, and a story of women navigating power and negotiating it or seizing it amongst themselves, in an otherwise male world.

Going deeper with spoilers…

The films of Yorgos Lanthimos have all had very different story lines, but are united in that they’re all, to put it simply, very strange, but can be tied together by a theme of people experiencing psychic pain in one way or another, manifesting in different ways. The Favourite is different in some ways from Lanthimos’ previous films. It exists in a world that is more naturalistic than the worlds of his previous films. There is a realism to the film making – for example  the film appears to use entirely natural lighting, natural and consistent to the period that is. He uses only candle light at night and daylight during the day, with no sign of any help from artificial lighting. But amongst the realism are fantastical moments, often marked by the use of a fish-eye lens which distorts the action, and the final bunny shot, which reflects the psychic distortion of the characters. These are often the moments when Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) is at her crazed best, loosing it in some regal Hampton Court Palace hallway.

Seeing this film, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the very troubled Queen Anne. She excels this role playing amongst and exceptional cast, with Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone more than holding their own. But really this is Olivia Coleman’s film, and she brings this extraordinary, troubled, powerful character into three dimensions.  

As with his other films, Lanthimos uses music, particularly incidental music, to great affect in The Favourite. Incidental music often blends into the background, creating atmosphere without really standing out. Horror films tend to be an exception to this where the incidental music becomes an essential part of many iconic moments, like the shower scene in Psycho, or the most dramatic moments in Jaws, for example. It’s not often the incidental music stands out as it does here, building the tension, creating atmosphere through the dramatic moments of this film. The turning points. This may not be a horror or a thriller, but the characters, whose perspectives are deeply distorted, as depicted by the use of the fish-eye lens, the way they see it, their lives are at stake. They live for the court, and the favour of the Queen. It is what they know, and how they can make their fortune, and so it becomes everything. Life or death, even though no-one actually dies. And the music reflects this drama.

Funny and clever and extremely well made, The Favourite one of the best films playing at the moment, and well worth a trip to the cinema. It’s playing at independent cinemas now.