Yorgos Lanthimos has become known for dark offbeat dramas often set in slightly twisted versions of the modern world, see The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Now however he has turned his directorial talents to the reign of Queen Anne in the 18th Century and political machinations of her court.
Whilst Lanthimos’ previous films have been characterised by unusual delivery, this is a far more conventional film in many ways. The change in tone of the script probably comes from the fact that The Favourite is not written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, instead the screenplay was penned by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. As a result this is probably the most out and out funny of Lanthimos’ films, but never at the detriment to the story of the political maneuvering between several key figures in Anne’s court.
Chief amongst these figures is Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, and Anne’s clearly favourite as the film begins. Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer, provides her main opposition in government. Whilst a cousin of Sarah’s, Abigail Hill, seeks to move up the political ladder. The striving of these three for power and influence is utterly enthralling, and the film never tells you that you should be rooting for any one side throughout. Instead Lanthimos allows the audience to see all the aspects of these characters, good and bad, and form our own opinions on them.
And these characters are all incredibly rich, partly due to the writing, but also thanks to the incredible performances. Nicholas Holt is excellent as Robert Harley, but it is the trio of Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone that are rightly grabbing award buzz as Anne, Sarah, and Abigail respectively. Coleman as the slightly manic Queen Anne is incredible. British fans have known her incredible talent for years, but it’s great to finally see her getting a huge opportunity on the global stage.
It’s Weisz though who steals the limelight in every scene she’s in. Capable of being both witheringly cruel and completely vulnerable, Weisz is truly spectacular. The fact that Coleman and Stone are right up there with her is absolutely testament to the level of acting talent on display. If for nothing else then watch The Favourite for the performances.
But there is so much more. Lanthimos’ direction and the razor sharp screenplay are right up there this awards season, and it is genuinely hilarious. This may have been my first cinema trip of 2019, but it is already setting a high bar for every other film to clear through the next year.