Tay’s review published on Letterboxd:
Everything is Sex, Except Sex, Which is Power, You Know Power is Just Sex: The Movie
this reaffirmed that my hatred for Phantom Thread had everything to do with my not enjoying the characters one iota, because The Favourite reminds me greatly of PT in terms of tone, humor, irony, and genre fuckery. the key difference for me is that even though none of the characters are particularly kind, neat, or "good" in The Favourite, i still was fascinated by their self-absorption, self-righteousness, and insatiability. sorry, PT—at least now i can say that i get why so many did love it, even if Woodcock and Alma weren't for me.
but this busted my goddamn balls. Lanthimos has perfected the liminal: this looks and feels, at an initial glance, like a beautiful, strange escape into a fully-embodied 18th century court. the costuming evokes both elegance and class strata; the decor and set pieces are equally artistic installations and historical markers of wealth, gaudiness, delusion, and grandeur. the score slaps, even if it does, i think, feature my least favorite instrument (fuck the harpsichord.)
Olivia Colman is THE queen, and she moves between inflicting pain and affliction with a terrifying grace. i think Rachel Weisz and and Yorgos might be two of the best contemporary collaborators. her sense of timing is sharp, macabre, and can change the entire trajectory of a scene with the slightest glance or pause. her chemistry with Colman is really only rivaled by Emma Stone, whose chemistry with both Colman and Weisz is noxious. Abigail is corrupt where Lady Sarah is honest, but Abigail's longing is also the only thing to eclipse Lady Sarah's need for control. it's a game of power between three women in three different dynamics, and the rules are such that no one can win—it is only a matter of what she stands to lose.
the chaptered sections stumble slightly in their pacing, but they also highlight the tightness and fluidity of each sequence. the final scene, at any rate, is an absolutely gutting and understated reset. it's a matter of silence and internal realization, a suggested groveling with a consideration that power doesn't make anyone into a monster, it only pacifies the terror. i'm ready to defend that last moment as one of the most provocative and mournful scenes of the year, but i'll wait for a rewatch (because then hopefully i can write more explicitly about it, because to dance around it just seems like a disservice.) for now, though, this is satire guised thinly as a period piece, which is ever-conscious of the Now. The Favourite knows it is a film about power, specifically power between women rather than men; no man here ever comes close to besting Queen Anne, Lady Sarah, or Abigail. but it looks beyond the already interesting dynamics of women wanting control—be that in the form or war, peace, love, lust, trust—and at the innate corruption of any power dynamic. the problem isn't who has power, who has the most power—power itself (as a function, as accepted forms of knowledge) is the problem, and here, love is not the solution, but the irrevocable calamity.