Lanthimos’s latest film after DOGTOOTH, THE LOBSTER and THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is his most extravagant, with a period setting in a castle with royalty as its subject.
It is the early 18th century when England is at war with the French though the film opens oddly enough with royalty involved with duck racing and pineapple eating. The poor are taxed and the poor go to war. A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health, temper and sexual desires . When a new servant Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots. Abigail schemes to fill in as the Queen’s companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfil her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.
THE FAVOURITE stands as a film that those familiar with Lanthimos will find quite similar to his last movie THE KILLNG OF A SACRED DEER. As in both films, the status quo of a family is challenged (Farrell’s in DEER and Queen Anne’s in FAVOURITE). Both sees the arrival of a stranger who is revealed to have closer connections with the family that will shake formalities and turn the family upside down for better or for worse. Though Lanthimos’s favourite actor Colin Farrell is not in this film, one can see him inhabiting a similar character now taken on by Nicholas Hoult. THE FAVOURITE also contains Lanthimos’s odd pounding soundtrack and his fade outs to black.
Lanthimos sees that the audience takes the side of Emma Stone from the very start when she falls flat with her face onto the mud on arrival at the castle. She can do no wrong, compared to Lady Sarah that the script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara ensures the audience dislikes from start to finish.
Both films contain odd dialogue that are funny because they can occur at the least likely moment. THE FAVOURITE’s best line is when Queen Anne rebutting Lady Sarah when asked to dismiss Abigail: “I will not, I enjoy having her tongue inside me.” Those unfamiliar with Lanthimos previous films (and better still if the trailer is not seen beforehand) will likely find THE FAVOURITE more amusing, shocking and refreshing while those who are will find him doing the same tricks in a different setting. All the main actors Weisz, Stone and Colman have been in Lanthimos past films. Surprises are no more surprises if they are expected to occur. One can say the same for a Lanthimos film – to expect surprise after surprise. It would be a surprise if his films did not shock or surprise. Still. Lanthimos’s The FAVOURITE succeeds well in its ambitions. But the dialogue (in literally the Queen’s English) – except one would imagine the words ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ were not used in those times – is sped up several notches compared to the slow dialogue in Lanthimos’s other entries.
THE FAVOURITE arrives after the Venice International Film Festival with favourable reviews.