By Marc S. Sanders
Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favorite. Wow! This is a weird one.
This film focuses on a competition of one-upmanship between two ladies, one a servant named Abigail (Emma Stone); the other a close friend, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) of Queen Anne during 18th Century England. As Queen Anne is frail physically, and often mentally (she insists on keeping 30 rabbits running loose in her bed chamber), Abigail capitalizes on opportunity to win the admiration of the Queen over Lady Sarah, a cruel woman in her own right. The humor is more shocking than overt or witty.
It becomes laughable to witness the shenanigans of the highest of aristocrats from mud baths to duck shooting to naked fruit tossing at one another. Sometimes, you ask why? Then again, it is probably because a lower class, say the majority of the free world, would like to stick it to the upper class and show them as the fools that they are or that we wish them to be. A royal vase is always nearby if a lady feels the need to vomit; not a bucket, a vase.
Olivia Colman is very good as the Queen, seemingly incapable of making decisions and being subtly overruled by the influence that her friend Lady Sarah carries. If the Queen really wants to reduce the taxes imposed to prolong a war with France, Lady Sarah will make certain that just the opposite is done. The Queen will unsurely oblige and back up the message that Sarah makes to the Cabinet. Sarah has no reluctance in abusing and humiliating the servants, the men in the Cabinet or anyone else, including the Queen. She will happily admonish the Queen by criticizing her makeup just as she is to meet with a Russian diplomat, thereby allowing herself to run the meeting while the Queen retreats to her chambers.
Abigail has come from wealth but due to hard times, has become recruited to be a servant destined to take care of menial tasks or be humiliated by being forced to watch an English officer pleasure himself, falling into “mud that stinks,” or taking cruel showers with a rough sponge. An opportunity arises however, when she discovers a natural way to bring relief to the Queen’s frail legs. Soon, Abigail is becoming intimate with the Queen much to the dismay of Sarah and now the cruel games of back and forth begin.
No one is really likable here. It’s a competition in royal politics, and politicians of any nature in any setting are never entirely liked. To hold stature, requires ego. Ego, however, is not a strong enough word for how these three ladies treat each other. The frail Queen is just as guilty. If she feels slighted, she will disregard those that have won her over in prior moments, particularly to her first friend Sarah and later to Abigail. When Sarah goes missing, the Queen declares she better be dead when she eventually begins to worry. If she’s not dead, the Queen will surely slit her throat. Abigail wins the Queen’s affections but will ultimately be used cruelly as well.
Eventually, all of this back and forth has to end of course, and Lanthimos along with screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara bring in a sneaky last “stick it to ya” moment.
I’d never seen a film by Yorgos Lanthimos before. I’d heard good things about his other film The Lobster, though. Here, he’s got a camera angle I rarely see in films. There are times when a wide shot of a room, like the Queen’s chambers or outskirts of the palace are shot through the bottom of a glass, where the edges of the caption are curved outward, almost like looking at the film through a view finder or a telescope. Not sure why he opted for this technique. Perhaps it was to up the ante on the strange environment of it all; to offer a discomforting feeling towards watching this community of Establishment behave behind closed doors.
Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are also very good. A film like this could have played like a bad day time soap opera cat fight. Yet, when you have Academy Award winning actresses like Weisz (The Constant Gardner) and Stone (La La Land), you are watching a period piece that will stand out albeit very strangely.
Yes. Once again, The Favorite is a very strange film. A good film and a weird film that takes some patience and getting used to. Four people walked out of the theatre I was in, but there was still plenty of laughter from the crowd. The best of the year, like most critics claim? Maybe not. Then again, most of the critics’ common choices for best of the year is indicative that 2018 really was not a great year as a whole for movies. I’d argue prior years have offered a better collection of films to treasure, admire, award and salute. In another year, The Favorite would be trumped by many other candidates.