Friday, October 19, 2018

THE FAVOURITE - BFI London Film Festival 2018 - Day Ten

It's the early 1700s and Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) sits on the throne of England, but THE FAVOURITE, Sarah, Lady Malborough (Rachel Weisz) rules the country.  She does by being alternately kind but strict with the Queen, projecting herself as her protectress, appearing almost bullying. And she wields this power to keep England at war with France, her husband at the head of that army, and the Whigs in power.  But when Sarah takes pity on her young impoverished cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) she invites a viper into her nest. This apparently naive young girl is in fact an accomplished actress and manipulator and is soon working to usurp her cousin, gain her titles back, marry, and make an alliance with the opposition Tories. What's most astonishing about this story of rivals is that it's basically true. The only thing that has been added is exactly what should be in high quality historical fiction - an emotional imagination that shows us the conflicting motives and feelings of the three protagonists and what might have happened in bed.

The resulting film is by far the most mainstream that Yorgos Lanthimos (THE LOBSTER, THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER) has directed. It's a sumptuously shot, designed, framed and acted film that's highly accessible, and - with the exception of some superb swearing - is actually pretty inoffensive.  Rather than creating a sinister and claustrophobic near-horror feeling, Lanthimos has actually created a very sympathetic portrait of three women trapped in a strictly controlled courtly world, and while his trademark dark humour is still there in spades, this is his first film where I really cared about all his characters - where they were more than satirical cyphers or quasi-myths.

Olivia Colman's portrait of a Queen undone by successive miscarriages, stillbirths and infant mortalities is one that is hugely sympathetic. She turns  what might have been a selfish, silly character - Queenie from Blackadder II - into a woman of great pathos, trying her best to do her best, despite her bitter sadness and loneliness.  Rachel Weisz' Sarah is similarly well shaded: when we meet her we think she's an exploitative, abusive bully but by the end, well, I came to believe that she truly loved the Queen and loved the country and was doing everything for what she perceived to be the best.  The key line is when she tells her rival that they are playing very different games.  Emma Stone's Abigail is similarly well drawn and acted - and doubly well acted because Stone is essentially playing an actress. She turns out to be rather ruthless and cunning, and ends up winning in theory - but she started the film selling herself to a fat German and ends basically as a whore still. The final image is thus one of a truly haunted self-aware woman paying the price of her ambition.

Behind the lens, Lanthimos and DP Robbie Ryan heavily reference BARRY LYNDON but add very Lanthimos touches like the fish-eye lens. I love the contrast of the sumptuously rich tapestries with the period accurate but entirely monochrome ladies' costumes. Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara's script superbly balances scabrous wit and real pathos.  And the score manages to be both period perfect and arch. There is honestly not a single thing I would change about this wonderful film.

THE FAVOURITE has a running time of 120 minutes and is rated R. It opens in the USA on November 23rd and in the UK on January 1st. 

No comments:

Post a Comment