the favourite

I really liked the new movie from that guy who did The Lobster

The Favourite was a joy to watch from start to finish, all the actors are doing their best work, and I finally like a Yorgos Lanthimos movie!


Olivia Colman plays Queen Anne, reining monarch during the War of the Spanish Succession. She’s introduced as more of a body than a queen: sweating heavily, screaming from the gouty aches and sores, and morosely bingeing sickly green cake then purging. Her best frenemy and lover is the Duchess of Marlborough, played by Rachel Weisz. She tenderly cares for her by rubbing the Queen’s legs and holding her hair when she vomits, but also puts her in her place by telling her that she looks like a mess and occasionally calling her pathetic. The third lead character is Abigail Hill, played by Emma Stone, who arrives to the castle a distant relative with no money or power, but with an education and a climber’s eye for opportunity. And we’re off to the races! What follows is an incredibly fun remix of King Lear-style emotional shitshow with catty All About Eve backstabbing drama. Not only are all three actresses very, very good, they all embody such distinct energies. If you are like me and love powerful actresses going big, it’s a delicious treat.

Emma Stone in The Favourite

Emma Stone brings her witty and winning charisma, her physical comedy, and later in the movie this slightly deranged and completely believable greedy malice. In a movie in which so much of the story is in smoldering looks and closely observed body language, she gets most of the funniest lines of dialog.

Rachel Weisz in The Favourite

Rachel Weisz carries herself with a body language and speaks in a voice of such power that comes across as very butch. “If I were a man, this scar would be considered quite attractive,” she says to Queen Anne after an accident which leaves her with a facial scar, which plays as a joke because the eyepatch that she wears to cover that scar turns her look toward bisexual pirate chic and everybody in the audience is already wet. She is tender and cruel and imperious and I loved the way she takes an anti-heel-turn later in the movie.

Olivia Colman in The Favourite

Finally, we have Olivia Colman. She does something so incredible I can barely describe what it is. For the first half an hour, she’s on screen but it’s like she’s not even there. She is ill, she is bossed around by Lady Sarah, but we don’t get to see the person inside, like a grotesque. Then, there is an electrifying scene where the camera is just trained on her face for two or three minutes, almost no change in facial expression, building to this tremendous tension and it’s like watching someone come home to their own body. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Over several films, Yorgos Lanthimos has built a reputation on these bizarre, surreal, off-putting films that have one foot in contemporary social commentary and another foot in powerful, primal images of Western storytelling. Put another way, he makes the kind of movies where there’s a reference to Greek or Roman mythology and it makes sense in context and decoding it enriches your understanding of the movie. They are also high concept, kind of boring, nihilistic, and undercut their own emotional impact because the characters are too abstracted away from real people and real human behavior. The Favourite is far and away his best movie because the script is much snappier than in his other movies, there are actual jokes in it, and the people behave and talk much more like real people. He also has a not-great repeated habit of using adolescent or incestual sexuality and young women’s bodies as an ingredient to add flavor to his creepy broth, and I was pleased that that didn’t make an appearance.

Removing all the men from a court drama like this (they’re there, but they’re not that important and are mostly there for laughs) allows us to engage in this story about sex across power differences (the Queen’s favor brings with it a lot of power, and yet Abigail ends up with power over the Queen too) without necessarily bringing gender difference into the equation. Power and sexual desire are linked and seem to always have been, and right now we’re in a time where the relationship between them are under a lot of scrutiny. This is a very timely movie for giving us a story onto which to project our sense of justice and cowardly sense of disquiet both.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *