The Favourite ★★★½

Thankfully all is not lost for Yorgos Lanthimos after the insufferable, ignominious "The Killing of a Sacred Deer." With that said, it's difficult to see too much beyond the admittedly strong surface pleasures of shots taken at the manor-born landed gentry and who will win this sporting contest of scheming, sexual gamesmanship. You sense Lanthimos and company reallllllly grasping for some sort of venom-laced lesson about love toward the end. It sort of gets there, but this is mainly an appropriate showcase for Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, each in fine form, to spit bile at each other. Tawdrily written and tensely plotted, call it "Les Lesbians Dangereuses" - a cross between Jane Austen and Armando Iannucci, with Lanthimos's usual infusion of dispassionate sexual release, misanthropic musings and fascination with the thin line between animal and human savagery. He's disinterested in a safe pivot into period-piece pornography or costume spectacle. Instead, his fish-eye lenses and hard-slap camera pans, coupled with the monolithic rooms, serve to trap the characters in tight, angular traps. They are, in line with one of the film's creatures on display, in a pen all their own … or perhaps an abattoir. Lanthimos uses his camera to peer out, point fingers and poke and prod at their perspectives. There are also more purposeful comic absurdities here, namely in the choreography of the courtiers' dance, that also land more often than not. But by the end, you sense he's eager to make us feel something like compassion for characters who are perhaps undeserving. To reference one act from the movie, it's like watching Lanthimos don gloves to avoid burning himself on lye.