The Favourite: Yorgos Lanthimos’ new masterpiece
Today I saw the new ingenious work by my hero Yorgos Lanthimos and I loved it! The Greek director and creator of wonders such as Canino, Langosta or El sacrificio de un ciervo sagrado, is back on the scene with a film of palatial intrigues about Queen Anne of England’s entangled relationships (Olivia Colman) with another two astute and ambitious women: her childhood friend and political confidant, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone), her impoverished cousin, who has ended up as a maid and social climber – immerses us in a whirl of manipulations and emotions that keep us on the edge of our seats until the finale.
The Favourite is the first period drama of the film maker, set in the extravagant background of the aristocracy and royalty of the XVIII century. It’s a story where the main ingredients are desire, jealousy, power, sex, love, trust, friendship and betrayal. A veritable collage of situations and feelings that concoct this film based on a true story which marked not only the lives of these three extremely dominant women but also on the fate of England.
Strangely enough, all this intrigue does not lie far from our current reality, and in fact, the director himself believes that human behaviour today is no different that of those times and that we can still observe these types of scenes in our daily lives.
When filming a period drama, it’s always interesting to see what it has in common with our own lives. You realize how little things have changed except our clothing and that we now have electricity or the Internet. However, there are many similarities that are still current in human behaviour, society and the structure of power.
The film – which got the Great Jury Prize in its journey through the Venice film festival, and the award for best actress for Olivia Colman -, is structured in chapters, as if it were a book, and each chapter deals with a necessary tempo to understand the nature of the characters, their nooks and crannies, the fragile nature of their relationships and their power games…They are all headed by a key phrase, which disconcerts us initially but which later helps us submerge ourselves in the core of this passionate triumvirate.
This time, Lanthimos has counted on the invaluable help of director of photography Robbie Ryan – collaborator of British Andrea Arnold in Wuthering heights or American Honey –, and it’s definitely noticeable. The Favourite oozes splendour through its great angles, sublime and prolonged cross fades, fisheye effects and violent panoramic views…He has also counted on screen writer, Tony McNamara, who he worked closely with on the original screenplay by Deborah Davis. For both, The Favourite, in spite of what it may seem, is a love story above all.
The history is about how complicated love is and how your identity can be distorted and deformed by these complications. We call this a tragic comedy and that’s what it is. It explores people who love each other but there are many other aspects of their personality and what they aspire to obtain in life that obstruct this love.
Another of the oddities of this particular chronicle, and which Lanthimos was surely drawn to, is that Anne is England’s least known Queen. Partly because despite her extraordinary seventeen pregnancies, she didn’t leave an heir to speak of her – they all died in childhood -. She rose to the throne at the end of the XVIII century, because there was basically no other protestant heirs in the Stuart line. This is why, the fact that she supervised the war with France, considered the First World War of modern times, as well as the union between England and Scotland to shape Great Britain; and she also faced the bitter national division, between the Whigs and the Tories to obtain increased influence as the new political bipartite system grew.
For many reasons, Anne was clearly not an ideal candidate to Queen or ruler. She was constantly sick and had a limited educational background. As a consequence, she was always surrounded by people who competed for her favour both through trust and love. Anne was very sensitive and vulnerable and those more astute than her, used her weaknesses to their own advantage…This is apparent in the film…
This said, which turns this amoral fable into gold, is still the work and vision of Lanthimos. This is because he opts for the rarity and insanity of daily life of the human behaviour of these characters, which seem contemporary, and which delves in their emotions farther than the impact of their socio political acts. Is there a historical narrative? Yes! But is takes second place. Yorgos has managed to redefine and transgress this British period and has created something that is completely unique, unmistakeable and inspiring.
Lanthimos is an enigmatic individual who has the surprising ability to convey and communicate through his films. There is a kind of subliminal magic to his story telling through his films; it´s a type of alchemy in which he manages to make you ask yourself questions even days after watching his films. He can be highly provocative in all senses.
Likewise, one of The Favourite’s major virtues is the women who star in it – Rachel Weisz is absolutely incredible, Olivia Colman is a goddess and Emma Stone is highly gifted in her capacities -. All three of them play powerful women but who are also fragile, capricious, jealous, who get enraged and as with most people and are full of defects. Three roles that very well portrayed and spectacularly acted, and which Yorgos had been dreaming of for a while. However, unfortunately, it’s not common enough to find works of this genre.
In La Favorita, the women shoot pigeons, gallop on horses, run along hallways, physically seduce men in the forest and have sex.
Although as I mentioned at the beginning, The Favourite is based on a real story, but both Lanthimos and McNamara use a certain amount of artistic licence in the film. This is because, although there is a fundamental reality in the main events and within the frame of history, their main concern is to explore these three women. This was always their main goal and the reason why they stuck to historical veracity when it was useful to the plot but when it wasn’t…they sidestepped it. Even so, the end result is very close to reality (which I will detail at the end of this post).
To sum up, I’m convinced that The Favourite is going to be a strong Oscar candidate. Meanwhile, I hope you go to see it and that you enjoy it as much as I did.