New York Film Festival Movie Review: THE FAVOURITE (2018)

The Favourite

The Favourite

I know it is a little too early to tell, and I’m not only saying this for the sake of puns, but I think THE FAVOURITE might be my own personal favourite movie of the year. The performances are incredible and downright shocking, and in my personal opinion, Yorgos Lanthimos can do wrong, ever. THE FAVOURITE only solidifies that opinion furthermore in my brain.

Olivia Colman (Peepshow, Broadchurch, The Lobster) stars as an actual member of the Royal British Monarchy, Queen Anne. She reigned from March of 1702 until her death in August of 1714. During this time, she held a close confidante in the Duchess of Marlborough, Sarah Churchill, whom in the film Rachel Weisz portrays. Then we have Abigail Hill, a distant relative of both Lady Marlborough and Lord Harley of the Parliament, although the relation to Harley is not mentioned in the film. Emma Stone and Nicholas Hoult play Hill and Harley respectively. The historical actualities in the film sort of end there; while it is true that Queen Anne was close to both Abigail and Sarah, there is no historical factual evidence as to how close.

THE FAVOURITE is really about the game of political chess that is involved with being in the Royal British Court. Rachel Weisz’ Lady Marlborough is seen as a political genius, if not an entirely devious and sometimes heartless person. Annabelle Hill is framed as an opportunist. Having been born a Lady, in the film, her father squanders away their fortune and sells his daughter to a German man in a card game. She has been raped many times and wants nothing more to belong to the station in which she was born.

At the beginning of THE FAVOURITE, Annabelle is in an overcrowded carriage with a number of unknown people. A man who appears to be a soldier starts…well…jerking off inside. Annabelle is disgusted and says something and thusly gets kicked out of the carriage into a pile of cow shit/mud. She arrives to the palace where her cousin, Lady Marlborough lives and works alongside Queen Anne, to ask for a job.

Abigail and Sarah become fast friends, or so it appears, until Abigail finds out a huge secret about Sarah and Queen Anne that she uses to her own advantage to ascend in rank. She quickly goes from sleeping on the floor with all the other servants, to having her own quarters. When Sarah and the Queen’s relationship sours and Sarah is kicked out of the palace, Abigail acquires Sarah’s old chambers.

Olivia Colman is absolutely brilliant as Queen Anne. In reality, Queen Anne was known to have been ill with gout and this is portrayed in the film. Over the course of THE FAVOURITE, her health deteriorates even further. She had over 17 pregnancies, most of which ended in miscarriages or stillbirths and the rest all died before reaching adulthood. In the film, she has 17 rabbits that are all named after their late children. Sarah hates the rabbits, but Abigail loves them, or at least pretends that she does. Queen Anne is presented as somewhat of a clueless overgrown teenager who is led solely by her passions, and easily swayed in her opinions by people she loves. Although it’s uncertain whether or not this was true in reality, Olivia’s performance is very convincing. At the end of the film, she finally realizes how she’s been taken advantage of, and the result is chilling.

I had the opportunity to ask Olivia Colman a question at the press conference held after the New York Film Festival Press and Industry screening of the film. Yorgos Lanthimos, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, screenwriter Tony McNamara, and costume designer Sandy Powell were also present. I love everyone’s performance in this film. It’s a rare thing to see everyone in an ensemble to bring the heat equally, but in this case it was true. Here’s one thing, though. I feel as though Olivia Colman is severely underrated by American audiences. While in the UK, I have to imagine she must be a superstar, due to her appearances in the smash hit television shows Broadchurch and possibly my favorite British comedy of all time, Peep Show. Out of anyone in the cast, she was the person I wanted to talk to, and I am absolutely thrilled that she has top billing in a film that American audiences will undoubtedly see in droves.

I asked her “In the film, you play sort of an overgrown teenager, could you tell me what sort of process you went through to channel that?”

She almost seemed shocked that a question was directed at her, mainly because everyone was asking Yorgos or Emma Stone most of the questions. She said “Oh, I don’t have a process, there’s Yorgos and this wonderful script and perhaps maybe I am an overgrown teen.” Yorgos Lanthimos then chimed in and said “Well we did have weeks of rehearsal.” Then Olivia says, “Oh yes, that’s true. Don’t ask me anything, ask Yorgos” and everyone laughed. I love that someone who achieved such a groundbreaking performance in the film has such humility about the work.

Another thing I loved about the press conference was that a person asked a question about acting that could have applied to the whole cast, but specifically asked Emma Stone, and she responded “Why are you only asking me?” which was also incredibly refreshing, considering that Stone is the biggest “star” in the film, yet she still had the kindness and, again, humility, to acknowledge that this film gathered the strength from its ensemble.

Yorgos Lanthimos is also probably my favorite modern filmmaker. He’s one of the few directors (outside of genre films of course) who creates films for English-language audiences, that is not afraid to go to the darker side and have many set pieces that are just altogether weird. He rivals David Cronenberg and Harmony Korine in this regard, but somehow at his best can outclass both of them, which are strong words coming from a huge fan of both of the previously mentioned directors.

I sincerely hope that after reading this, you’re convinced to go see THE FAVOURITE when it comes out on November 23rd. A few more things that make this movie worth seeing: Nicholas Hoult dressed as a 17th century dandy, wig and all, the beautiful costumes and set dressings, the number of hilarious and historically out of place dance routines, and most importantly, a duck race. All this and more that I wouldn’t dare to go into before the film’s released are awaiting you in Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest masterpiece. GO SEE THIS MOVIE!!!!!

Lorry Kikta