The Favourite movie review: An Oscar-winning version of Keeping Up with the Kardashians
Director - Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast - Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Joe Alwyn, Nicholas Hoult
Rating - 3.5/5
According to data that you needn’t verify later, one of the most popular search terms on pornhub.com last year, especially among women, was ‘lesbian’. Along with another perennial favourite, ‘threesome’, it has traditionally been a go-to search on the website, which in 2018 clocked an astounding 33.5 billion visits. It’s worth investigating then, why The Favourite, a film about a lesbian threesome, couldn’t find a bigger audience.
Perhaps it has something to do with the film’s aesthetic, which is less likely to envelop you in smooth jazz than with Machiavellian muddiness. Its central trio of characters is exceptionally devious, almost always dirty, and not very pleasing to look at - a far cry from the hairless goddesses that are considered the cultural ideal online.
Or perhaps it is because none of its central female characters bears any resemblance to the submissive pushovers that men are more likely to pursue and consequentially, less likely to feel threatened by.
Watch The Favourite trailer here
It is the story of the largely forgotten British monarch Queen Anne (played by Olivia Colman in an Oscar-winning performance), who unfortunately is most remembered today for her frail health and the little interest she had in governing. She would spend most of her time in organising odd games and playing with her pet rabbits. The country is effectively ruled by Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (played by Rachel Weisz), who through unrelenting scheming has cemented herself as Queen Anne’s advisor and, in moments of need, her lover.
When Sarah’s distant cousin Abigail Hill (played by Emma Stone), washes up on the shores of the grand palace she lives in with the Queen, her crippling insecurity convinces her to take Abigail down, lest her position be threatened.
Abigail, who belongs to a lower class than Sarah, is initially forced to work as a scullery maid, but soon begins to make inroads into the Queen’s inner circle. She begins by showing the Queen kindness, because that is what Anne seems to be yearning for the most. But later, she sacrifices her body in her pursuit of power.
The Favourite is in many ways an exploration of this power, and more particularly power in relation to women. While men are more likely to fuel their egos in similar situations, the film seems to suggest that with women, it has more to do with survival.
The unfair environments in which they’ve grown up has made them what they are, because the same environments will consume them the moment they show any sort of weakness. And so they must be cruel, and petty, and unforgiving. Because the alternative is before their eyes, slathered in tacky makeup, riddled with under confidence and named Queen Anne.
Colman plays her like a tragicomic failure, chewed up and spit out by a world with no time for people like her. In one of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes, she tells Abigail that she has lost 17 babies, which for a moment seems like a reference to the many bunny rabbits she surrounds herself by, but almost immediately reveals itself to be a more literal statement.
She is the industrial waste of a patriarchal factory, the garbage that the elite would much rather keep hidden - partially pathetic but downright lovable.
It’s a particularly hilarious touch on director Yorgos Lanthimos’ part to portray the male characters as pompous poseurs, though.
He does this by blending his trademark dark sense of humour with impeccable work by his department heads. I can write pages about Sandy Powell’s costumes, and Robbie Ryan’s cinematography. Filmed with disorientating fisheye lenses that isolate characters in the corners of the frames, much of Anne, Abigail and Sarah’s evolution is told through their clothes. While Abigail’s transformation from maid to confidante has an element of nouveau riche tackiness, Sarah is dressed mostly in dark, masculine hues; almost like combat gear, which makes sense for a character that always seems to think she’s on a battleground. Anne, meanwhile, is like an overgrown child whose clothes are still picked out by her parents.
Unlike the recent Mary Queen of Scots, The Favourite’s feminism is rather on point. It truly doesn’t think much of its men, but instead of having a woman say this in as many words, it allows the guys to make a fool of themselves - which is something you can always count on.