Sunday, December 30, 2018

Court Intrigue

Movies: The Favourite

Director Yorgos Lanthimos continues to intrigue me with the range in his filmmaking. Last year, his film The Killing of a Sacred Deer was my personal "worst of the year". I found it pretentious and annoying to the point where I was laughing at it (and not with it) in the theatre. But in 2016, his film The Lobster was my *favorite* film of the year! I found it both heartfelt and bizarre in a "if Wes Anderson directed a horror movie" kind of way.

Lanthimos is back with another winner, perhaps not to the caliber of The Lobster, but still very strong with The Favourite. Taking place in Queen Anne's court in 1708 during the War of Spanish Succession, The Favourite focuses on a war of a different kind: the war for the queen's (played with a beautiful lack of vanity by Olivia Colman) affections by cousins Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill. Sarah (played by the captivating Rachel Weisz) is a Duchess who was also childhood friends with the queen. She is fiercely intelligent and capable and is all but running the country behind the throne. But when Abigail (Emma Stone, playing up her wide-eyed innocence), once a highborn lady but fallen into disgrace who also happens to be Sarah's cousin, arrives on the scene, Sarah's place as the queen's favorite is no longer secure.

Abigail proves to be an amoral schemer who slowly but surely usurps Sarah's place as Queen Anne's well as Sarah's place in the queen's bed.

According to a Google search for "queen anne lesbian?", it was rumored that the queen had lesbian affairs, though never substantiated. The Favourite puts lesbian love center stage, for better or worse, and it works because it reveals the depth of love between Anne and Sarah, as well as the false flattery Abigail pays the queen for her own personal gain.

But the gender politics don't end there. The Favourite has been noted to be a unique film in that the women are front and center while the male characters are relegated to the sidelines. They still play a role, but it's what we would normally see as "the girlfriend" role or "the bitch from the office role". They also look like fops in their early 18th century wigs, makeup, and heels. Two male roles stand out: Nicholas Hoult as Robert Harley, a scheming member of Parliament who forges a "friendship" with Abigail in exchange for political information, and Joe Alwyn as Samuel Masham, a Baron who falls for Abigail. It's clear though that these men only serve to further the women's stories...and that is quite refreshing.

I didn't like The Favourite as much as I thought I would, but I liked it a lot. It's funny, it's dark, it's beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted. It's a period film with zero stuffiness that shows what disgustingly indulgent lives royals lived long ago. Hell, you can even read parallels to modern politics into the film with the way Queen Anne is portrayed: lazy, incompetent, and bought and sold with flattery (although apparently she was actually a much stronger leader than Lanthimos gives her credit for). But even when she is brought low by heartbreak, tragedy, and a stroke to boot, she's still 100 times better than--to use a word bandied about quite a bit in this film--the cunt currently in charge.

Grade: A-

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