By Alex Gehrlein ’19
Yorgos Lanthimos has been on a great run with his past three films. The Lobster introduced US audiences to a brand new voice in film with a darkly comedic, but emotionally detached look at an absurdist concept that is more than worth checking out. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer was a jaw-droppingly dark romp through the same sort of material, just with the overall menacing overtone pumped up to eleven, and the humor remaining at around the same level of strange brilliance. His characters don’t talk like normal people do; they read everything in an infectiously monotone voice that somehow manages to make the absurd things being said even funnier, or even more terrifying depending on what the scene calls for. Colin Farrell starred in both of these films, giving two great performances with such a limited emotional range, alongside other actors like Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Nicole Kidman, and Barry Keoghan, all working in the same realm.
The Favourite follows two women, Abigail Masham and Sarah Churchill, as they vie for Queen Anne’s favor during a war with the French. While it is not my favorite of Lanthimos’s three English language films, it’s almost hard to decide where to place The Favourite among them when they are so similar, but also so completely unlike each other at the same time. For starters, this is a period piece set in 18th century England. I could go on at length about the costume and set design, but whether or not they’re particularly accurate is less important than the effect they have on screen. The wide corridors and stately halls of the palace somehow feel claustrophobic. A darker, muted color palette keeps the film away from the gaudy excessiveness of the period (portrayed brilliantly in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette), while keeping the viewer aware of the ridiculous nature of the people living in it. All I can say without giving away too much is that there are some particularly hilarious duck jokes that make me chuckle just to think of them.
Speaking of jokes, the script is chock full of them, but mostly on a deeper level. There are some laugh out loud moments, but most of the film’s humor comes from the strange places of desperation that the characters are willing to go to to attain the Queen’s attention. Biting back and forth dialogue, overflowing with insults, put downs, and sheer hatred gives us one of the best scripts of the year.
The performances are equally fantastic. Colman really shines as Queen Anne, delivering her lines in an almost childlike fashion, complete with pouting, whining, and the occasional emotional outburst. You are not likely to find another film portray royalty in the same way, and it’s genuinely pleasing to see a different take on the class in film. Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz each go back and forth one upping each other’s performances in the same way their characters try to do the same. I could not tell you which one I thought did a better job. They both have moments of hilarity and villainy burned into my memory that come back to give me a slight chuckle when I think about the film. All I will say is that if the Golden Globes are any indication (by the way, congrats to Elsie Fisher for Eighth Grade), all three of these women will be nominated for Oscars, and I would bet on Colman taking the Lead Actress prize.
Lastly, I just want to pour out a little more love for Yorgos Lanthimos, who seems to be doing everything he can to make his films unique, and I really appreciate that. 2018 has been a good, but not great, year for films, especially when compared to 2017. I know that awards season is just starting up, and films I’m greatly anticipating like Cold War, and Destroyer have yet to come out, but I just don’t see them putting this year up to the same level. I predicted going into this year that The Favourite would be my favorite film of 2018, and while I’m so glad to say that it was even better than I could have hoped for, it’s just a little disappointing that there were only one or two more films to really give it a good run for its money. What we need are more filmmakers like Lanthimos, ones who are willing to take us out of our comfort zones and present something that could only have come from them.