Malevolence in the palace
January 10, 2019
Garish. Stunning. Crass. Brutish. “The Favourite” is a period piece which neatly illustrates the absurdity of royal life by the ceaselessly reserved director Yorgos Lanthimos.
Set during the reign of Queen Anne of England, who is played by the incomparable Olivia Colman, the film follows the interwoven paths of three strong and equally repugnant leads. The film centers around the most personal moments of the Queen’s life—those spent in her own bed chamber.
However, this intimate cinematic encounter doesn’t simply trace the mundane day-to-day of the Queen.
Rather, it illustrates, in heart-rending fashion, how maliciously she was manipulated by her own chambermaids.
The first of these women is Sarah Churchill—portrayed by Rachel Weisz—who, like Colman, is a regular in Lanthimos’ films. The second of these chambermaids—and cousin to Churchill—is Abigail Hill, played by Emma Stone, who rises to her position after being introduced to the castle as a run-of-the-mill maid.
She reaches her high rank by attracting the Queen’s attention through a series of bemusingly kind acts that she does selflessly for her mindless, emotionally tattered monarch.
Queen Anne is notably insecure and broken—easily swayed by the political sycophants around her. After suffering from seventeen tragic miscarriages, she has resorted to adopting droves of rabbits which she calls her ‘children.’
Her emotional distress is coupled with a bevy of health issues. Most notably, the left side of her body is plagued with an extensive, painful case gangrene. All of this as well as her emotional flurry is well-documented historical fact which seems very well researched by the writing team behind “The Favourite.”
The one thing that brings Anne solace is Churchill who, while clearly manipulative at the start of the film, is a strong apologist and guardian for the Queen at all times.
When she is in pain, Churchill is present to ensure that servants and medical professionals are there to attend to her immediately. Their relationship is toxic, surreptitiously sexual but mutually beneficial.
When Hill arrives at the castle, she seeks even the lowest forms of employment, but as aforementioned, her kind deeds earn her a place in the Queen’s closest circle. Churchill is perturbed by this, whose malicious control of Queen Anne is challenged by her equally scheming cousin.
If the parchingly dry dialogue and clearly bone-crushing clothing of the era didn’t adequately illustrate the stayed tension of both the time and this treacherous cast of characters, it can be found in the absurd and attention-grabbing camera work of Lanthimos and his cinematographer Robbie Ryan.
In the echoey, candlelit halls of Anne’s palace home, scenes are shot in sweeping gestures, with uncomfortable intimacy and unparalleled composition.
Ryan makes notable use of a fisheye lens for a number of scenes—many of which are conversational sequences.
While it seems like just a quirk, it comes across as yet another way to show the inane distortion of reality throughout the entirety of the story. With a Terry Gilliamesque swarm of psychosis, the visual crew does service to the insanity of the time.
Finally, and most masterfully, the soundtrack of the film adds a final flourish of palm-dampening angst.
The sore drone of sparse strings and the dull plunk of piano in some of the film’s most emotionally-charged scenes gives the viewer another level of terror in a movie that was quite wrongly dubbed a ‘comedy’ by myriad organizations.
It’s not a movie to watch with family, and perhaps not even with friends, but “The Favourite” deserves a watch. While nauseating and displeasing at nearly every turn, its deft absurdity and cloying psychological strain is something few other films can ever accomplish.
Contact Noah Sonnenburg at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.