“As it turns out, I’m capable of much unpleasantness.”
Based on real 18th century events, The Favourite is a well-cast production where director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) explores how far someone will go to pursue their perceived goals of ultimate power and social status among British royalty.
Beginning in 1708, the current ruler of Great Britain, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), always displays her heart and considerable pain as her coping skills have devolved into constant tirades as wells as genuine turmoil due to her failing health.
Anne’s husband King George has recently died and the world seems to be unraveling. Britain’s at war with France, but this film regulates this war entirely to the royal palace’s grounds. No visuals from the field just dialogue descriptions of events. Only the squabbling and struggling among Parliament (the Tories and Whigs) and the Queen’s Court to curry her favor.
Tory leader Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), Baron Masham (Joe Alywn), and Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss) play key roles as well as they also jockey for power and position.
The Queen also fights a personal war of tragedy and depression among the 17 rabbits she keeps – each one symbolizing a child she has lost over the years. Filmmakers use a very practical approach to present her pain without manipulating emotion from the audience. “Some wounds do not close; I have many such,” says Anne.
Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) keeps Anne’s credibility and confidence in question with endless criticisms and zingers. As Anne’s close friend and confidante, Sarah knows the Queen the best and uses that knowledge to her own advantage.
Only when the strong-willed Sarah is unconscious does someone else gain from her. Sarah’s decision to correct a hurtful threat to the Anne is admirable, but still leads to misery. This act and other poisonous behavior from the lead characters overcome everything, especially since there is usually no authority or enforced accountability over them.
Abigail (Emma Stone) humbles herself before the royal court for a servant’s position. Previously a noble before her father’s disgraceful decision, Abigail appeals to her cousin Sarah. Abigail’s earnest heart and practical knowledge aid in her ascension among the staff.
Betrayal, anger, and jealousy among this trio boils over several times. They use the powers they have to get what they want. The sarcastic quips and clever tactics impress and amuse, but by the end what these characters ultimately achieve neither satisfies them or benefits anyone, which no audience member enjoys. The numb expressions on the characters’ faces during the final sequence express this fact amazingly well.
Unrelenting ego, personal insecurity and a gluttonous appetite for luxury drive the characters who cavort in excess, unabashedly pursue their personal desires, and play crude games to entertain themselves. This trio attempt to proceed to power with admirable intentions, but quickly diverge using extreme lengths to get what they want, which creates something ugly that destroys lives.
First-time producer Deborah Davis also makes an impressive screenwriting debut as she collaborates with director and veteran TV writer Tony McNamara. The plot contains eight numbered sections with a piece of dialogue as each section’s title.
The subjects express the emotion behind every action as Lanthimos minimizes camera movements as characters express themselves with a wide range of actions ranging from a vindictive carriage route that further humiliates a key character to a bird shooting that gets a bit too close to another key character. Inventive lens techniques and wide shots are very effective.
Various baroque pieces make up the music instead of a traditional musical score. Elton John’s “Skyline Pigeon” is a poignant choice for the ending credit sequence as various rabbit sounds follow. This song has harpsichord instrumentation similar to the previous music choices.
Editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis teams with Lanthimos again as both create some masterful sequences. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan implements an incredible use of natural lighting in the film while veteran costume designer Sandy Powell provide sharp looking outfits fit for royalty.
The experiences in this British royal court are unforgettable due to high levels of visuals, acting, and music. The Favourite comes recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated R for strong sexual content, nudity and language. Historical background is helpful here and enhances the experience as audience would likely want to learn more about the real people and these historical events.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler