The Favourite is not your typical period drama, flaunting grandiose palace courts and larger-than-life gowns for two hours straight. It’s a marvellous concoction of excess, but remove the frivolous tea-drinking etiquettes and add in some lesbian lust, political manipulation, and black humour, and you get Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s new movie.
Lanthimos – also known for his dystopian black comedy The Lobster (2015) – teamed up with screenwriter Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara and cinematographer Robbie Ryan – who worked in the 2016 critically-acclaimed film I, Daniel Blake – to take on the behind-the-scenes power triangle of the House of Stuart monarchy in early 18th century Great Britain.
War with France rages while home-grown power battles take place in the English palace reimagined in Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. The tragi-comedy tells the story of the frail and temperamental Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), whose heart is far away from the affairs of state, but is instead on her 17 rabbits and her confidante, advisor and secret lover Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). The power dynamic shifts as Sarah’s fallen-from-grace younger cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) seeks employment in the palace, and strategically works her way to become the Queen’s favourite.
While the music is beautifully placed throughout the film, what’s also notable in the film is the costumes designed by Sandy Powell, who also dressed Tilda Swinton in Orlando (1992), Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love (1998), as well as Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol (2015).
Queen Anne can’t be bothered to dress up and prefers the comfort of nightgowns even in the daytime unless made to present herself in a regal ermine-covered gown while addressing to her court. However, Sarah’s contrasting wardrobe of “feminine” gowns and “masculine” attires, as well as Abigail’s style transformation from maid to Baroness, become unmissable fashion highlights in the film, while the two male supporting characters played by Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn are ironically dressed flamboyantly and in heavy makeup.
Brilliant performances from three powerful and complex female protagonists is captured with wide lens effect that gives off the feeling that we’re peeking into the palace through a fishbowl. Memorable scenes include Abigail and Baron Samuel Masham (Alwyn)’s “unconventionally-playful” romantic scene in the woods, and the theatrical sequence weaved together with Abigail’s spiked tea scheme and court jester “entertainment” in slow motion.
And let’s not forget the quiet but powerful final scene with Queen Anne and Abigail (and the rabbits, of course), which left the audience in silence for a good minute, before the final credit rolls and bursts of discussion fill the cinema.
The Favourite hits UK cinemas from January 1st, 2019.
*This article is originally published on _shiftlondon