If you’re going to make a costume drama in 2018, you might as well make it weird.
That’s the modus operandi employed by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) in The Favourite, his first directorial effort since his 2001 feature debut My Best Friend that he didn’t write — an odd realization considering the film’s surrealist overlaps with his previous efforts.
Crafted by first-time screenwriter Deborah Davis, with help from Lantimos and Australian playwright and TV writer Tony McNamara, the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) in early 18th century England receives a refreshingly naughty telling, full of petty behavior in a political setting that seems like something Armando Iannucci might have dreamed up.
Guiding much of the Queen’s actions is her confidante, the cheekily blunt Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), whose disgraced cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) comes to join the household and, through a series of calculated risks, worms her way into the monarch’s inner circle.
With gorgeous period tapestries and a sprawling estate as their backdrop, the three women’s relationship dynamics and their impacts on the nation — currently embroiled in an easily-winnable yet unpopular war with France — would be amusing without ornamentation, though much of The Favourite is shot through a fish-eye lens that heightens the work’s unusual nature.
Sarah’s goofy public dance with up-and-comer Masham (Joe Alwyn, Boy Erased), slow-mo duck races, and the sprawling wigs worn by opposition leader Harley (Nicholas Hoult) and other members of the court further add to the satirical tone — but to what does it amount beyond yet another commentary on the fallibility of people in power?
Posited as an awards contender, the film is an entertaining romp and expertly executed all around, plus the emphasis of women in power is a welcome shift from the norm. However, with other recent releases such as If Beale Street Could Talk and Roma making more soulful, nuanced, and minority-driven statements on the human condition, The Favourite could easily find itself going home from the year’s prestige ceremonies empty-handed.
Grade: B-plus. Rated R. Now playing at Carolina Cinemark and the Fine Arts Theatre
(Photo: Fox Searchlight)