An awards-darling, period piece set in the court of an obscure eighteen-century English monarch, one may be forgiven for thinking The Favourite is just another classic "Emma-Thompson-in-a-corset" or "dangerously-repressed-Colin-Firth" kind of film, which get churned out with surprising frequency - and to surprising acclaim. If by any chance that is the kind of film you are after, however, then this is not for you.
Olivia Colman as the tragic and ridiculous Queen Anne
If the name Yorgos Lanthimos did not immediately set any prejudices you may have had about the film’s triteness, then the impressive quantity of profanity, puking, and hanky-panky probably does the trick. However, it is the complexities of genre and character that are experimented with in The Favourite that are mostly responsible for its illusive and insistent magnetism.
It is captivating in its ambiguity; hilarious, heart-breaking, tense, and cringe-worthy all in the same scene. The non-verbal performances of all the main cast hide as much as they reveal. Special credit should be awarded to Olivia Colman, playing Queen Anne, who communicates so much with the watery vulnerability of her eyes. The compelling intimacy of these close-up shots are contrasted with cinematographer Robbie Ryan's jarring use of a fish-eye lens, which takes you out of the closeted world of private court politics into the public sphere of nation and government in the eighteenth century. The similarities and dissonances of these two realms are sensitively explored in the film, which is underlined by a feminist perspective from Queen Anne.
In the marketing of The Favourite, an emphasis has been placed on its three leading female roles and the ground-breaking work it has, therefore, done for women in cinema. This film is indicative of the gender equality the industry is striving for. However, the level of celebration indulged in this film's realise is quite depressing for feminist critics. Female-led narratives have certainly been done before and it would be nice if they were done often enough for Hollywood to not have to pat itself on the back every time they happened. Importantly, the overwhelming focus on the superficialities of gender means that the subtler, and more interesting, themes of love, loyalty, and betrayal evoked in The Favourite, and embroiled in the historical context of an obscure and fascinating queen, have not got the attention they deserve.
Lanthimos has created an idiosyncrasy with The Favourite. It is a film of court politics, which ridicules courtiers, and is a film of love between hateful people. It is surprising, and squalid, and not at all triumphant. I loved it.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford
'The Favourite' is in cinemas until Monday the 28th of January. Tickets range from £3 (for under 25s at the BFI) to £18.50 (at the Leicester Square Vue).
By Hannah Clayton