An unconventional favourite
After being thrown into a world where duck races and monstrous cake eating are a normal pastime, 'The Favourite' quickly became my favourite cinematic experience of 2019. Yorgos Lanthimos brings to the screen a cocktail of humour, narcissism and surrealism set in the decadent 18th century courts of Queen Anne. It is not a film to bring your conventional Grandmother to - however, it will definitely open her eyes to the deviances performed during Anne's time.
The film has a lick of zealous humour that permeates throughout, predominantly through Olivia Colman. Colman is radiant as the demanding and childlike Queen Anne, moving swiftly from sentimentality to crudeness. Initially, her rabbit obsession seems absurd and quaint, as she sits in her corset playing with her 17 bunnies. And yet the viewer can’t help but feel extreme sympathy for her having learnt that the rabbits represent each of her deceased children. Colman expertly manoeuvres between pathos and comedy, revealing the intricacies of a complex female character. A particularly humorous scene shows Anne intentionally collapsing in parliament as she tries to avoid passing laws: one of the finest ways to deal with politics. Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara's witty script shows the depths of Anne's character, which is seeped with insecurities and humour when she exclaims:
"They were all staring weren't they? I can tell even if I can't see. And I heard the word 'fat!"
Despite similarly spell-bounding performances from Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, their characters are far from likeable. Stone initially brings naive charisma as Abigail Hill but as she becomes increasingly power hungry, she is taken over by the tentacles of unruly spitefulness. This culminates in the distressing final scenes with Anne’s beloved bunnies. Weisz as Lady Sarah is unapologetically bitchy, showing glimmers of empathy underneath a fundamentally strong and vigorous temperament. Both characters show humanity, but neither won me over.
Performances aside, it is the stunning cinematography that won the show. In an interview with Stone, she talks about the artistic effects of having the set "lit entirely by candle light", which provides a warm and grainy picture, romantically accentuating the skin of the characters. Robbie Ryan's use of the fisheye lens provides a wholly different cinematic experience, making you feel both claustrophobic and agoraphobic. As the characters become more and more excessive, the globelike lens makes you feel intoxicated; the viewer becomes a decadent member of the court. The audience not only sees from the point of view of the characters but also the rabbits, with the low camera shots. Ryan states that Lanthimos "doesn't like convention. It's his kryptonite" and this experimental approach is what makes the film such a spectacle.
With a strong female cast leading a darkly comic period drama, this film will leave an imprint on your mind for weeks, if not years. Performance, vision and expert direction come together to produce a masterpiece that will be remembered as ‘The Favourite’ by many.
Words by: Emily Pirie