31 Days of Film: The Favourite
The formula for a great movie is really pretty simple at the end of the day. Find a talented director and attach them to a good script, hire some competent—preferably exemplary—actors and give them a handful million dollars and six months and you’re almost guaranteed something great. Simple right? It’s also the most difficult thing in the world to make a truly great movie. Finding a great director is like finding a needle in a haystack and despite the plethora of talented actors there are today pairing them with good scripts and good filmmakers seems to be getting all the more challenging by the day. The Favourite is the product of lightning striking. Lightning that only strikes two or three times a year. And considering over 800 movies get released into theaters every year in the US that’s a harrowing number indeed.
Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek director, is few people’s favorite filmmaker but those that love his work will talk your ear off about him. The Favourite is Lanthimos’s third film in as many years and the best of the bunch. The two previous films, 2015’s The Lobster and 2017’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer, were two quite different films but managed to be equally strange. Both The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer were films that I enjoyed to an extent; I thought Lanthimos proved a tendency to get carried away—the best example of which is the third act of The Lobster—a compelling and unflinching look at modern romance and love that seemed to lose its own point in the final act of the film leaving me confused as to whether Lanthimos really knew what he was trying to say. Based on his first decade and a half of movie making I would hardly have called Yorgos Lanthimos one the best or even one of my favorite working directors but he was undoubtedly one of the most interesting. The Favourite differs from his previous two films in that he did not write it—which if the film is anything to judge by may be the secret to success. Not to suggest Lanthimos is a bad writer, there are parts of both The Lobster and Sacred Deer that are expertly written, but the tight, punchy writing in The Favourite just suits his style that much better. Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis cowrote the script and they have produced something that is bitingly funny and a witty satire of royal English culture. Lanthimos’s mastery of the camera and mise-en-scene bring a life to McNamara and Davis’s brilliant script that make The Favourite not just one of the best films of the year but one of the best comedies this decade.
Lanthimos, McNamara, and Davis will receive—rightfully—lots of praise for the film; Robbie Ryan, director of photography also deserves equal praise for my favorite display of cinematography of the year. But brilliant camera work and pacing and script would have been all for not were it not for The Favourite’s incredible cast, primarily the three leads: Emma Stone, Olivia Colman, and Rachel Weisz. Olivia Colman, who has made her name primarily in British television, gives the performance of her career as Queen Anne (The Crown fans should be giddy for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in the coming season) and Rachel Weisz applies her signature stern face and domineering style to Lady Sarah. But as she always tends to do Emma Stone steals the show. Stone plays Abigail, the newest chambermaid for the queen and cousin of Lady Sarah who through cunning and some other choice tactics manages to earn the favor of the ailing queen. Watching Stone transform over the course of the film from wide-eyed young women fallen on hard times to a ruthless lady of the court out for her own interests is a joy to watch. The three main characters, Queen Anne, Lady Sarah, and Abigail are brilliantly crafted to be separate well-established characters and simultaneously both strong and vulnerable. Lanthimos does an excellent job over the course of the film creating three women the audience must root for and against at different junctures who feel comically exaggerated and so completely human and with the film’s final shot leaves the audience begging for me. The Favourite truly is a masterpiece in character development.
I hope the tales of the demise of the $15-50 million have been exaggerated. As much as I love a good superhero movie and a summer blockbuster the idea of losing films like The Favourite or last year’s The Phantom Thread saddens me. Even for something like this to be relegated to the annals of Netflix or Amazon Prime’s library feels an unjust fate. The Favourite is without question one of the best films of the year and an incredible display of the talent of its three stars and its director. It would be a shame for cinema if we were to lose movies like this in the future. Mostly because I just want to see Olivia Colman and Emma Stone in more ostentatious palaces shouting at men in strange wigs and inch thick makeup.