The Favourite

The Favourite ★★★★

Yorgos Lanthimos’ filmmaking sensibilities can be described, at least from where I am sitting, as a synthesis of Wes Anderson’s sense of humour, Luis Buñuel’s notion of using ridiculous allegories as tools for exploration of themes, and Stanley Kubrick’s visual formality. As you may imagine, his films are rather unique. However, he has thus far worked only with his own original ideas and The Favourite constitutes Lanthimos’ first ever attempt at tackling not only someone else’s material, but also material that has its roots in history.

Suffice it to say that this film proves just how interesting and intellectually-stimulating it can be to pair a distinctive voice like his with material seemingly restrained by a requirement to adhere to historical factuality. It is a period piece like no other in that it actually remains married – for the most part – to exploring the power dynamics in Queen Anne’s court as it likely was, but Lanthimos warps this reality ever so slightly to adjust it for his own world-view or to simply enable an allegorical analysis. He offers a view of the English politics at the beginning of the eighteenth century as though it was passed through a fisheye lens – distorted for artistic effect but at the same time offering the widest possible angle of view; which is what makes this film very interesting and thought-provoking.

As a result, the ruling class is depicted as a group of wig-wearing, bunny-collecting, orange-hurling weirdos who wield powers they have no business wielding and who seem both completely detached from reality and utterly consumed by a combination of hedonistic urges and ruthless ambition. The story’s central powerplay between the Duchess of Marlborough (portrayed formidably by Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Hill (later known as Lady Masham, played by Emma Stone) and their efforts to groom the frail, diseased, and lonely queen to become an enabler of their aspirations is shown with equally surreal slant that somehow taps into the current zeitgeist of the rise of radical feminism. By retaining a caustic comedic tone saturated with, at times very graphic, sexual references, The Favourite definitely transcends the confines of a period chamber drama and opens itself for interpretation filtered through a context of modern politics, which is because our rulers have always lived in ivory towers, divorced from reality, playing their little games of oneupsmanship and indulging in the pleasures of the flesh while millions suffered. Even this sentence alone should be enough to draw at least a handful of parallels to current affairs in the – supposedly civilized – developed Western democracies.

But underneath this thick layer of allegorical content left by the filmmakers for the viewers to tuck into, The Favourite harbours a story about loneliness at the top where everybody smiled and nodded and poured poison in Anne’s ear while pretending to their utmost she was important to them, because what they were after were crumbs of the power she was raised to wield, perhaps even against her wish. While perhaps relegated to the background of the narrative to make space for Machiavellian machinations of Sarah and Abigail's opportunist contests, this thread cannot be seen as underexplored; it’s there. Like a beating heart it is found only when touched with a bare hand. And only then one is able to realize that Lanthimos’ film is more complex than meets the eye. It is a skillful satire of the political classes underpinned by a heart-wrenching tragedy of a woman falling under the cross of her office.

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