Film Review: The Favourite

Photo courtesy Yorgos Lanthimos.

By David Prendeville

Local company Element Pictures have enjoyed extraordinary success recently with their latest film The Favourite. It marks their latest collaboration with Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos.

The director shot to prominence with the dark, absurdist comedy Dogtooth in 2009. He followed that up with the equally original and formally daring Alps.

He began working with Element on The Lobster, which starred Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz and was shot in Dublin and Kerry. Their fruitful collaborations continued with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, again starring Farrell, along with Nicole Kidman and Barry Keoghan.

The Favourite, however, marks the most commercially visible venture between Element and Lanthimos to date, evidenced by its totting up of ten Oscar nominations (see page 5).

The film marks the first time that Lanthimos hasn’t written his own script. The screenwriter Deborah Davis was actually developing the script for close to a decade before Element got involved. They pitched the idea to Lanthimos some years back and he became interested in the story of a bizarre love triangle between three powerful women in 17th-century England; Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and a new servant Abigail (Emma Stone).

The film does mark something of a departure for Lanthimos, not least, for its period setting. The film also doesn’t have, what is now, his trademark style of acting which features flat emotionless acting. The film retains, however, Lanthimos’s formal audacity.

The Irish cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, shot much of the film with fish-eye lenses, giving the story an otherworldly feel, which highlights the strangeness of 18th-century royal life.

The film aesthetically calls to mind a certain kind of eccentric British style of film-making exemplified by the likes of Peter Greenaway, Derek Jarman and Ken Russell in the 1970s and 1980s. The film also retains an unmistakable air of Lanthimos’s misanthropic humour.

The performances are every bit as superb as the universal acclaim suggests. Colman is quite simply extraordinary, managing to combine elements of slapstick, cruelty and tenderness, and genuine tragedy in her performance.

She is ably supported by Stone, an actor of enormous talent, too often squandered in somewhat mediocre material and the consistently reliable Weisz.

This is a frequently hilarious, quotable, formally brilliant picture that also manages to be both very sad and deliriously cynical about human nature. Highly recommended.

The Favourite is currently in cinemas across Dublin.