Venice 2018: Yorgos Lanthimos' 'The Favourite' is Delightful Decadence
by Alex Billington
August 30, 2018
There's nothing like a Yorgos Lanthimos film. The more films he makes, the more refined and interesting and bold he gets. The Favourite is Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos' latest work, an English-language feature set in early 18th century England, following a capricious Queen and her wacky days in her castle. It's the pinnacle of amusing absurdity, giving us even more ridiculousness (this time going back into the past) to chew on and laugh at with utter joy. This extensive, opulent, hilarious comedy is about a Queen being played by her subjects, specifically two women who work closely with her. It is delightful decadence, with so many crazy, bizarre, funny moments throughout - though it overstays its welcome. Unlike Lanthimos' past films, this one isn't that meaningful, it's all made to be enjoyed as something absurdly fun and entirely harmless.
It's clear from the start that the film is about this Queen choosing her favorite (hence the title) between two women who aid her - Rachel Weisz as Lady Sarah, and Emma Stone as Abigail, a servant who comes in and disrupts things by quickly working her way up the chain. Olivia Colman plays Queen Anne, who is frail and confused and fickle, unsure of what to do other than to indulge in her ways and occasionally make decisions to increase the land tax or go to war, or maybe not, who knows how she feels. Lady Sarah has long been by her side, getting involved in more than just political matters, but gets a bit pissed off when Abigail wins the Queen's trust. Lanthimos' maintains the hierarchy and authenticity of the time, so much so that even the comedic scenes in this are believable - they probably really did this kind of stuff back in those days.
The best part of The Favourite, which had me laughing often, is that it's playing on the idea of how decadent and absurd royal life was in the past. We're talking about duck races, mud baths, throwing fruit at naked servants, extravagant parties, getting upset for no reason, doing stupid things without any real consequence, torturing people for no reason other than they were disloyal (whether true or not). Lanthimos puts all of this in there, and goes all out, making the characters act as if it's all serious all for our amusement. And I said, I believe this all probably did happen, it's not a stretch to imagine royalty being ridiculous because they could. That's how things were back then, and most of the film is just indulging in this - extensively. This is the most enjoyable part of the film, and it makes for wickedly satisfying entertainment - at least for most of the film.
As enjoyable as it is, there is a point where the film starts to feel like it's repeating itself. They go in circles with regards to the plot of the Queen being persuaded and trick into believing one is more loyal than the other, and we've seen this so many times already in the past 90 minutes, that it begins to become repetitive. It loses its steam by the end, which is a bit of a let down considering how gratifying the rest of it is. The total run time is 120 minutes, but it could've easily been condensed into a more streamlined, more enjoyable 90 minute film. It hits all of its notes, builds nicely with Stone's Abigail character growing closer, climbing higher and higher. Once she gets to the top, that's pretty much it. Lanthimos throws in another of his darker endings that just doesn't seem to work, feeling out of place, too much of a departure from everything before.
Nonetheless, The Favourite is hilarious and delightful. Especially thanks to the performances. Oh my Lord, Emma Stone is the greatest. Her layered performance works for the character and and as an example of an actor truly in command of their talent. Olivia Colman is perfect as the Queen, so grumpy and unsure, not at all likable but exactly what she needs to be for the role. Weisz is also fantastic in her role, with a character that is devious and delectable, and yet nuanced. There's amusing appearances by Nicholas Hoult, James Smith, Joe Alwyn, and others in the supporting cast. And the score is a perfect addition, used powerfully at times, and used minimally others to build the tension and amusement in a clever way. I had so much fun watching this film, and sometimes that's exactly what we're looking for at the cinema. Long live the Queen.
Alex's Venice 2018 Rating: 9 out of 10
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