Yorgos Lanthimos has carved out a wonderful niche space, crafting films that mix whimsy and darkness in equal measure. From Dogtooth and Alps to The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, each of his movies forms a strange little world that we’re invited to visit. His latest, The Favourite, takes many of his narrative and stylistic quirks up a level, for a wickedly biting take on the British court.
A kind of sly nod to the likes of Barry Lyndon, Lanthimos takes Stanley Kubrick’s formalism and deliberate pacing and adds acerbic humor, resulting in a film that’s overtly luxurious and at times quite hilarious.
The story details the complicated relationship between an ailing Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her friend and consigliere, Sarah (Lanthimos’ regular collaborator Rachel Weisz). Abigail (Emma Stone), a former aristocrat who was sold by her father to cover gambling debts, arrives to the estate literally covered in muck seeking employment.
From there, a game of power and revenge emerges, with the three women creating a kind of moral maelstrom where winners and losers trade places constantly. On the periphery are the men vying for control, including the leader of the opposition (Nicholas Hoult) and Sarah’s military commander husband (Mark Gatiss).
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s script excoriates all involved, with a nuclearized pettiness that makes the decision makers look farcical in the face of the seriousness of their tasks. The insularity of the court is beautifully realized. The confines of the vast castle (shot at Hatfield House in England) become prison-like, which makes the workings of these people look insigificant against the backdrop of such ostentation and opulence.
Lanthimos manages his greatest trick in the small moments. He makes things feel sinister, silly and seductive at the same time. With astonishing costumes and a wide-angled, sweeping style, the film is a visual treat. Once you add in excellent performances and nutty, preposterous dance sequences or bouts of violence, you’ve covered more ground than a dozen lesser films.
Strange and sublime, it’s hard to argue against The Favourite being my favourite film by Lanthimos. It’s an absolutely smashing dive into the mendacious and malevolent world of the British aristocracy. The three leads are exceptional. Colman’s infantilized ravings, Weisz’ cool exterior, and Stone’s smiling deceit all provide color to the piece. A sumptuous film with a raven-black comic bent, The Favourite is a knockout.