I’ve only seen two of director Yorgos Lanthimos' films but I hold both ‘The Lobster’ and ‘Killing of a Sacred Deer’ with great affection and high regard. If anything, Lanthimos is a master at crafting a disturbing assault of the senses in his films. He has a mastery of visual and tonal mood through deadpan performances and his refusal to explain the strange world his characters inhabit. And within the strangeness, amidst the absurdist drama that unfolds, does Lanthimos grapple and explore unsavory truths about human nature.
It’s why seeing all the trailers of ‘The Favourite’ had me excited. It quickly became my most anticipated movie of 2018. It wasn’t just because of Yorgos Lanthimos. but its excellent cast, which boasts of Oscar winners Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone and the renowned British actress, Olivia Colman. The delicious trailer reveals a period drama in the early 18th century England during the rule of Queen Anne as two women vie for the favour of the monarch, who has gone frail and mad with depression and old age.
Where ‘Killing of a Sacred Deer’ is dark, ominous, and creepy, and ‘The Lobster’ is whimsical yet dry and provocative, ‘The Favourite’ is wild and chaotic. Whereas Lanthimos’ first two films are still and stoic, ‘The Favourite’ is bristling with energy and madness. It’s exaggerated and plays off more like a farce than any other genre, but the stakes are serious and deadly.
In one hand, the film is a fantastic vehicle for the three actresses to show off their limitless talent and range. Colman’s Queen Anne is all at once manic and depressive, embodying the broken body of a woman who has given birth to 17 children and lost them all. At one moment she is pensive, and in the next, screaming at a footman because she thinks he looked at her. In Colman’s hands, it’s a masterful play of comedy and tragedy. The effect is humorous but she’s drawing from all the places of hurt that lies in Queen Anne’s heart and it’s this tension that drives home the point about the dangers of absolute power in one such monarchy. At the same time, it is also a character study of depression and the fragility of the human spirit when faced with such overwhelming stimuli such as the responsibilities of the queen, and her own turmoil as a woman.
On the flipside are the enjoyable performances of Weisz and Stone as Lady Sarah of Marlborough and Abigail, two women who plot and scheme against each other for the queen’s favour. While both have very different reasons altogether for the courtship -- power and survival -- the effects have crucial ramifications on the country and the well-being of the queen herself.
And as much as we enjoy the backstabbing and the seduction of these two women; as we enjoy their intricate political maneuvering of the royal court and the men who seek their favour, what the film manages to bring up to surface are all the deadly consequences of such games. Yes, it’s played as a comedy and the end results of such dark machinations have stakes that are as heavy as life and death, but we lap it up and enjoy every twisted moment of it.
The spectacular performances, the intricately detailed production design, the masterful lighting and camera work, and that ever-present perfectly discordant musical score that punctuates every scene with ominous dread all build up to this dark mirror of humanity’s obsession with power, and how devastating the consequences are, and the trial of pain and hurt and disappointment it leaves behind.
This is a triumphantly feminist film. All the men here are powerless to the cleverness and guile of these three incredible women. In fact, the only hold opposition leader Harley (Nicholas Hoult) has over Emma Stone’s Abigail is his social class standing. She’s far more clever than him and he needs her more than she needs him. England in the early 18th Century is still a man’s world, but that means the women have to be more ruthless to thrive in it as these women have become.
Throughout all the enjoyable, deadly mind games and political maneuverings found within ‘The Favourite,’ the dark truth of human nature is eventually revealed. That underneath it all -- whether it’s for power or just survival -- we all play games. And love, or the semblance of love, is the prize we all seek but also the weapon which we employ mercilessly and with great precision.
'The Favourite' opens in February 20, 2019, exclusive at Ayala Malls Cinemas (Glorietta 4, Alabang Town Center, Trinoma, and Ayala Center Cebu).