In Yorgos Lanthimos’ third feature film THE FAVORITE In his usual bizarre way, the Greek director takes on the quirks and peculiarities of polite society and exposes their arbitrariness and a shifted understanding of reality. We reveal more about this in our review.
The Plot Summary
The early 18th century. England is at war with France. However, duck racing and the enjoyment of pineapple are not missed out. The frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) sits on the throne; her close friend Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) runs the government for her, looks after the sick monarch and endures her short temper. A new servant begins her service at the court – Abigail Masham (Emma Stone), whose charm Sarah immediately falls for. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing, recognizing the opportunity to return to her aristocratic roots. As the concerns of the war increasingly consume Sarah, Abigail takes the opportunity to become the queen’s confidante and companion in Sarah’s place. The budding friendship enables her to pursue her ambitious goals – no woman, no man, no war or even a rabbit can stop her from doing so.
Movie explanation of the ending
With his unconventional social observations, the Greek Yorgos Lanthimos has become one of the most exciting directors of our time in cinephile circles. Next to colleagues like Damien Chazelle and Denis Villeneuve, he is also the most unpredictable; Black comedies with horror elements (“Dogtooth”) are just as much his strengths as family dramas (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”) and satires on human dating behavior in the 21st century (“The Lobster”), but in addition to a staging form that is currently unparalleled in this form, what unites it above all is that a genre classification, as we half-heartedly did here, is actually not possible per se. The unofficial leader of the so-called “New Greek Wave” says he doesn’t even know what exactly a genre is. He’s all about telling exciting stories. He also does this in the case of his new film “The Favorite – Intrigue and Madness”, which has become one of the promising Oscar candidates after various indicator awards and five Golden Globe nominations. No wonder: Lanthimos’ costume drama, which clinically exemplifies aristocratic life at court in the early 18th century, is first-class acting cinema and simply completely different from what prestigious film award juries usually award: pretty nasty.
Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is cared for and wooed by her servants.
“The Favorite – Intrigue and Madness” marks a new beginning for Yorgos Lanthimos in one detail: it is the first film for which neither the Greek-born nor his long-time partner Efthymis Filippou wrote the script. Instead, the two writers who were largely inexperienced in the feature film segment, Deborah Davis (this is their debut) and Tony McNamara (who has previously worked primarily on series such as “Puberty Blues”), were responsible for the script; and the fact that they were just as uninterested in a clear (genre) classification of their story as Yorgos Lanthimos himself becomes apparent after just a few minutes of the film. The detailed furnishings of the scenery, the magnificent costumes, the conflicts – at first glance, all of this appears to be from a conventional costume film. Only when the main characters open their mouths does it become apparent that in the next two hours you can’t expect to simply watch Queen Anne trying to stop her kingdom from going to war with France. Instead, it’s mainly about everything that the people (and not even all the servants in the castle) don’t notice; a Behind the scenes from the royal castle, so to speak. “The Favorite” is partly reminiscent of “Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland” – but Yorgos Lanthimos wouldn’t be him if he didn’t exaggerate the private life of the nobles into the grotesque. The reigning queen becomes a mental wreck whose everyday life consists of killing the free time between the individual government meetings with banalities. And when you are allowed to do whatever you want without restrictions, these banalities turn out to be particularly creative.
Whether the nobles race lobsters or ducks (and then eat them), throw tomatoes at naked, obese people or shoot clay pigeons in the garden: the personal complications among them are as unpredictable as their absurd leisure activities. With the appearance of the maid Abigail, who has lost her noble title, the focus is primarily on her relationship with her cousin Lady Sarah and the queen herself, whose favor she quickly earns after a few clever (or calculated) decisions. The dynamic that develops within this trio is outstanding not only because of the formidable acting of the actors (Olivia Colman won the Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy for her performance), who, in keeping with their caricature-esque characters, create a real overacting hysteria. But it is only through external influences that the three-person cosmos becomes a larger whole, which reveals its tragic sides upon closer inspection. The themes addressed by Yorgos Lanthimos in “The Favourite” make the film go far beyond being a distorted contemporary document or a snapshot, but rather are accurate comments on social injustices. The distribution of roles between men and women, the dependence of the poor on the rich, the struggle for power and recognition, decadence and consumption, war strategies – even in the format presented here, in which Lanthimos clearly has entertainment and entertainment in mind, they come across as an accusation and appeal to the world and the viewer.
Shooting in your free time!
Yorgos Lanthimos is one of very few directors to have developed his own signature style, which, despite its high recognition value, has not yet been repeated one to one. In addition to the very accentuated music, which mainly consists of well-known classical pieces, cameraman Robbie Ryan captures the film (“American Honey”) takes elaborate panoramas even in the restricted spaces of a castle, uses extremely long shots without cutting and uses distorting wide-angle and fisheye lenses to create the greatest possible distance from the action. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” already seemed like an experimental setup in its sterility. In “The Favourite” it now seems as if Lanthimos wants to show that even with the means of dramatic exaggeration, complete distancing is simply not possible, because ultimately the observations of the interpersonal relationships become more intimate from minute to minute. The creators get behind the mask (in the truest sense of the word!) of the queen and her saliva-licking confidants, without clarifying to the end in which moments there is genuine sympathy and willingness to sacrifice between them, and when it is all just striving for their own aristocratic title and power calculation is. As a result, “The Favorite” is always a bit of a (love) drama in which Lanthimos, as in “The Lobster”, explores the mechanisms of emotional dependence and finds symbolic motifs such as that of rabbits kept as pets stay with you deeply, even in retrospect.
Conclusion: The outstandingly performed “The Favorite – Intrigue and Madness” is the latest masterpiece from the hand of Yorgos Lanthimos, who in the opulently furnished costume tragicomedy strips the nobility down to its raw nerves and makes accurate observations that apply just as well to social ones standards of the present.
“The Favorite – Intrigue and Madness” can be seen in USA cinemas from January 24th.