The Favourite

Our take on the arthouse hit of the year

The Favourite

Director Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers Deborah Davies and Tony McNamara

(If you’re not keen on the language in this review – then you may not have seen the film!)

I wanted to adore it. The trailer and critical response suggest a fast, funny period gem. Well – the funny bits are mostly in the trailers for this arthouse hit that swings from one unsettling extreme to another.

Emma Stone as Abigail, fallen cousin of the Queen’s current favourite lady in waiting Sarah (a brittle and chilly Rachel Weisz), claws her way back up from the depths of degradation, being wanked at and shoved into the shit, beaten and burnt as she regains gentility through a takeover of the Queen’s affections.

Jaw droppingly stunning locations lit with windows and flame, and a gorgeous wardrobe in midnight and white elegance with flashes of red are jolted with grossout moments – open sores, a jaggedly stitched wound and some grotesque whores, plus all three leading ladies get to do a puke scene.

Men are sidelined, amusingly ineffectual eccentrics in giant wigs, no real threat to anyone, while women of all classes are ghastly, powercrazed untrustworthy bullies.

So much is surprisingly jarring – that soundtrack (a repetitive honk that after a while had me trying to think of other things to take my mind off it), those graphics (impossible to read the credits), that twirling fisheye lens effect (yes we get it, they’re under surveillance and constant scrutiny) and the superb attention to visual period detail faltering with linguistic anomalies, including characters saying ‘OK’ and addressing the Queen as ‘Queen Anne.’

Olivia Coleman’s terrific in a BAFTA-likely performance as the pain-wracked Queen. She holds nothing back, the camera lingers on her suffering face and body, her petulant outbursts and the unimaginable depths of her grieving for her seventeen lost children.

So, a mixed response. With shades of Barry Lyndon and The Draughtsman’s Contract, it looks fantastic (with Sandy Powell on wardrobe you’d expect that), and it lays bare the ugliness under the opulence. It’s a study of how having is not the same as wanting.

Philippa Hammond