The Favourite

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Mark Gatiss, Joe Alwyn, Jenny Rainsford

Words – Rhiannon Topham

The Favourite is horrible. By horrible, I mean the filthy, wicked kind of horrible which makes prudes feel queasy. By horrible, I mean the sort of crude material that forces my mum to look away and cover her eyes lest she witness something ‘saucy’.
By horrible, I mean it’s stupendously brilliant.

Much like the director’s first English language film The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest cinematic endeavour reifies the concept of love as a tragi-comedy of ludicrous proportions, a farcical rollercoaster journey of absurdity and twisted wit. And, just as discipline and expectation underpinned behaviours in The Lobster, so too does the relative de rigueur control the passions of The Favourite’s love triangle of fierce females.

Yet where The Lobster is a classic potpourri of abstract witism, The Favourite is a miasma of debauchery and period idiosyncrasy. It combines unapologetic profanity with regal mise en scene but, despite its jocular narrative, it’s by no means comic relief.

Olivia Colman’s frail Queen Anne is shackled by her own sadness and insecurity, and is practically bed-ridden by agonising gout in her legs, followed by a loss of mobility in her limbs later on. It’s also revealed in a touching display of vulnerability that the 17 rabbits she keeps in her bedroom are an attempt to fill the emotional lacuna left by the loss of 17 children in the past.

Drama and melancholy stalk the halls of the grand royal residence where the wide-eyed Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives looking for work. Her cousin Sarah, Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) practically shoots herself in the foot by taking young Abigail under her wing, a reluctant display of compassion which triggers the vicissitudes of her downfall from trusted advisor and vice ruler of the country to outcast and social pariah.

The coterie of male characters still exercise the commonplace patriarchy and tall-wigged fashion of the 18th century upper classes, but they’re portrayed as somewhat asinine compared to the triumvirate of status-hungry women.
It’s testament to Lanthimos’s deliciously twisted storytelling that, by presenting the (somewhat privileged) quotidian features in the luxurious tapestry of royal life, even this repulsive line-up of merciless narcissists seem beaten by their own savagery in the fight for power and fortune.