The Favourite

The Favourite ★★★★½

I simultaneously revel and cringe at the thought of all the happy retirees who stumbled into The Favourite thinking it was another Oscar bait period piece before slowly realising what a gleeful mockery of the aristocracy this is. Beneath the powdered wigs and their veneer of class, it turns out the powerful are just as petty and horny as the rest of us, scheming and manipulating their way into power to fuel their raging egos. It’s a rags to riches story where the wide-eyed protagonist reaches the top not through hard work or purity but by weaponising both her supposed innocence and sexuality to ensnare these repressed and depraved individuals into her web, Emma Stone’s charming exterior has never been used to greater, more subversive effect. The excess of the aristocracy has rarely been more apparent and arbitrary, it’s repeatedly stressed that the ordinary people are suffering yet they remain almost completely unseen and brought up only to score political points meanwhile we get dramatic yet ridiculous displays of duck racing and tomato throwing from the aristocracy that hilariously highlight their complete disconnect from the world. It all plays out with the proper accents and lavish costumes reserved for a reverent period piece, these bizarre narcissists inhabiting familiar archetypes and spaces yet distorted through not only their outlandish and petty behaviour but the fish-eye lenses that warp the palace into a twisted funhouse. Even if palace machinations weren’t really this absurd, it’s nice to see a depiction of the behaviour you would naturally expect from those with unlimited power and no consequence. Half the comedy comes from Lanthimos infusing his signature weirdness into eighteenth century stuffiness as these toffs swear and claw their way through period drama scenarios with the inelegance of your drunken coworker. While not as outright bizarre as Lanthimos’ usual work, the use of an external screenplay ends up grounding his signature style in our own world as it feels like this heightened weirdness could really have taken place between the recorded pages of history.

The Favourite excels at being so much more than an irreverent farce at the expense of the aristocracy, it’s a genuinely compelling tale about the delicate balance between love and power and the loneliness that’s staved off. Colman plays Queen Anne with a hilarious lack of dignity, if there’s a jealousy or pettiness then Colman will find it and imbue it into her spoilt demeanour. With how bombastic her performance is, it’s easy to overlook the quiet moments, obviously her pained description of all her lost children that casts her madness into a sobering light but also the confusion that lines her face during a session of parliament or Sarah’s disappearance. She’s only narrowly kept in line by Sarah’s delicate give and take based on a lifelong trust between the women, unlike Abigail who’ll pander and flatter to win Anne’s affection, Sarah’s love is not absolute and is instead based on honesty and a genuine love for Anne, thorns and all. On my second viewing, it’s actually Sarah who becomes the most compelling of the three protagonists as her motivations remain the murkiest and hardest to pinpoint, I get the sense that Sarah doesn’t even realise how much she truly loves Anne until Abigail is introduced and it’s soon too late, it feels like she got so used to fulfilling her political needs that Anne’s love became a given. The scene of her tearfully burning the letters before rushing to Anne’s chambers becomes her most human moment, the effortlessly cool façade dropped in a moment of horrid realisation that she might’ve tainted her relationship with Anne forever. For a brief moment the relationship becomes much less one-sided than established before, it’s clear Anne holds a special place in Sarah’s heart after all and there’s something besides power that keeps her staying. Either way Sarah’s such a stunningly elegant character who manoeuvres through court machinations and her daily life with an amazing poise, especially when she’s dressed in that stunning riding/shooting outfit that complements her personality perfectly, I’m glad she remains defiantly sarcastic to her final moments.

Hilarious and doused in satirical excess, The Favourite only improves with repeat viewings as the tangle of politics and love grows pointier and more achingly tragic. Lanthimos infuses his unique style into a brilliantly satirical screenplay which is brought to life by a top-notch cast led by three fantastic lead performances

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