Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult
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Yorgos Lanthimos isn’t a director you’d exactly call fun: The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer are funny, yes, but in a way that’s gruelling, intense and awkward to watch. The Favourite, though, sees him unleash his lighter side, balancing his twisted brand of humour with a rollicking silliness that is side-splitting, endlessly surprising and – yes – fun.
The scene is the 18th century. England is at war with France. Parliament can’t agree whether to battle further for victory or surrender and save both money and lives. The one pulling the strings behind the throne? Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), the best friend of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). But that delicate imbalance of power is upset when Sarah’s cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone), arrives at court, and, after falling from respectable status to become a servant girl, she swiftly starts climbing the social ranks.
The result is a spiteful hate-hate relationship between Sarah and Abigail, as they try to outdo each other to win the Queen’s affection – and watching it unfold is glorious, full of quotable insults, nasty pranks and deliciously sycophantic deceit. Stone and Weisz are hilarious in their ruthless cruelty, but it’s Colman who steals the show, bringing an unexpected note of poignant tragedy to her not-completely-with-it monarch, struggling to stay on top of her own kingdom, let alone her own opinion.
Throughout, Lanthimos presents everything with a knack for physical slapstick (watch out for farcical turns from Nicholas Hoult and Mark Gatiss), an appreciation of extravagant costume and set design, and a dizzying bag of camera lenses (courtesy of DoP MVP Robbie Ryan) that give everything a deliberately disoriented and ironically detached air. Racing from one-liner to one-liner, this is a costume drama that fizzes and bubbles with manic energy and refuses to play things safe or predictable. If you liked Love and Friendship, you’ll adore this.