Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Favourite



If I have any chance of catching up on my reviews of the more than twenty films I have watched in the past three months but not yet reviewed, I will need to write shorter reviews for a while, focusing on my assessment of the films and less on their content. My apologies to those who would wish my reviews to be thorough and provide more plot details.

Despite knowing that The Favourite was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, whose eccentric films remind me a little of Peter Greenaway (some of whose films I adored but many of which I found too bizarre), or even Lars von Trier I allowed the trailers to convince me that The Favourite would be a more mainstream feature than Dogtooth (which I disliked), The Lobster (which I loved) or The Killing of a Sacred Deer (which I disliked). It was a pleasant surprise to discover that The Favourite is in fact a quirky dark comedy/drama with a uniquely stark cinematography (occasionally providing a fishbowl lens view) that bears no resemblance to mainstream films. With the terrific performances by the three lead actors (all women, which is also unique), and clever writing by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, it’s not hard to see why The Favourite is also a favourite with critics. Unfortunately for me, The Favourite is not my kind of film, which is to say that the lack of even a single sympathetic character left me cold and disengaged throughout. I loved the witty dialogue, I loved the acting, I loved the candle-lit cinematography, I loved the period detail and the setting and I loved the score, but the plot and the crass nature of the story left me disappointed.

Set in England in 1708, Olivia Colman plays Queen Anne, a woman suffering from gout and depression and relying more and more on the love of her life: Sarah, known as Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). But then Sarah’s cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone) shows up. Abigail begins work in the palace as the lowliest of servants, but she had been a lady once (until her father lost her in a wager) and wants to be one again. And she is intelligent enough to pull it off. But it doesn’t take long for Sarah to see through Abigail’s schemes to become the queen’s favourite. The only question is whether she can stop her.

Don’t go into the cinema thinking that this is a fun comedy drama or even a brilliantly-acted period drama. There is fun, to be sure, and the acting could not be better, but The Favourite is dark in every way and I expect many readers may not appreciate that any more than I did (i.e. I appreciate many dark films, but generally need a character I can sympathize with). The Favourite gets ***+ - **** for the excellent filmmaking but will not be one of my favourites of the year. My mug is up.

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