The Favourite, Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland / UK / USA, 2018, 120 min, English
Set in England in the early 1700s, this decadent behind-the-scenes tale of women’s desire and ambition hinges on a trio of masterful performances by Olivia Colman as a frail and emotionally volatile Queen Anne; Rachel Weisz as Lady Sarah, the queen’s confidante who governs the country in her stead; and Emma Stone as Abigail, a new servant intent on returning to her aristocratic roots. Lady Sarah initially takes Abigail under her wing, but as they compete for the Queen’s affection their relationship becomes a tooth-and-claw duel of elegant backstabbing.
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) twists the period drama genre with bold touches of absurdity. The film is divided into chapters with titles like ‘This Mud Stinks’, ‘What an Outfit’ and ‘I Dreamt I Stabbed You in the Eye’. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s wide-angle lenses glide through halls and chambers where old men in vertiginous wigs engage in indoor duck racing, lobsters race before being eaten and Queen Anne’s 17 pet bunnies live. As it moves between classical and electronic music, the soundtrack enhances the tonal shifts of Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s profane and playful script.