Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone
Length: 2h 1m
The period-drama has a reputation for glamorising the past as a simple, gracious, eloquent epoch embroidered with elaborate costumes and embedded with a fixed social structure. The Favourite adds a manic, sinister, but humorous touch of reality. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, this anachronistic satire disturbingly portrays the social dynamics of the 18th century royal court of Queen Anne in a newly conjoined Great Britain. The story is centred around the arbitrary relationship of a female trio where the Duchess of Marlborough, Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) both compete for the ear and affections of the Queen (Olivia Coleman). Although the viewers loyalties won’t adhere with any specific character, the protagonists deserve individual analysis.
Wiesz brilliantly emanates authoritarian reserve in her role as the Queen’s initial right hand. Lady Sarah possesses the ability to command power as acting deputy to her superior. Lady Sarah often finds herself consoling the Queen: reiterating where her devotions lie; defending her status as the only true confidant as a means to legitimate her position. Abigail is the latest addition to the household. A distant cousin of the Duchess, Abigail has fallen from social grace and subsequently uses her familial connections to earn her presence and initial employment within hospitality. However, upon entry it is soon obvious that Abigail is far from satisfied in this humble position and is actualised as an imminent threat to Lady Sarah’s. Usurpation consumes the film’s narrative as the two cousins (in name only) use seduction, manipulation and affiliation to gain the Queens favour. Coleman’s performance as Queen Anne is by far the most compelling – convincingly resembling that of a spoilt child - Abigail and Lady Sarah being toys that she simultaneously picks up and puts down with equal indifference.
It must be noted how presumed gender relations accentuate the plot without becoming the subject. Lady Sarah and Abigail don’t succumb to social subjugation, but cunningly navigate their ways around gender protocol for their own gain. Between her capricious temperament and deteriorating physical and mental health, Queen Anne’s responsibilities are bolstered by Lady Sarah - often with better precision. Alternatively, Abigail uses her vulnerability as a weapon. Her perceived hopelessness attracts the empathetic attention of the Queen in addition to the male gaze of the aristocracy. With this she cascades deeper into the social inner circle until she is immune from external threat.For their male counterparts, the inability to detect that they are simply pawns within household politics remain with the belief that they pull the strings, egos intact. The Earl of Oxford (Nicholas Hoult), Baron Masham (Joe Alwyn) and even the Duke of Marlborough (Mark Gatsis) are evident victims.
That said, the film is by no means sombre. A familiar tone is detected when compared to Lanthimos’ other work. The humour is dry, shocking, and sways between subtle and eccentric. The pedantic nature of dos and don’ts that encapsulate the customs in an early 18th century royal household is pushed to comical extremes. The dialect is modern and strikes a suiting effect. The vernacular is casual, crass, but in contrast is backed by the heavy strung orchestral pomp that is expected to accompany such aesthetics.
The brash nature of the film may leave the viewer to ponder over possible realities and expectations of the period. What was the living reality of a mentally unstable semi-absolute monarch who is governed by her emotions? What precautions were unofficially constructed to sustain her position and prestige? How does a lifetime of unquestioned obedience from her subjects effect the way she values them – if at all? How did women in high ranking positions use the subjugation of their gender to their advantage?
The film ends abruptly leaving the viewer slightly delirious and giddy. I highly recommend this period-parody that whispers a progressive undertone.