“The Favourite” movie by Yorgos Lanthimos with 10 Oscar nominations creates an enjoyable portrait of the 18th century rotten universe at Queen Anne’s court 

A review by Luigi Locatelli – Italian version at: Nuovo Cinema Locatelli

Translation by: Fiammetta Cesana

Out in cinema from January, “The Favourite”, the film of the Greek Yorgos Lanthimos, just consecrated with ten Oscar nominations: best film, best direction, best actress, best supporting actress (double nomination: for Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz), best original screenplay, best costumes, best photography, best editing, best production design. The Oscar will be awarded on February 27th.

This review has been written after the screening at the Venice Show 2018, where Yorgos Lanthimos then won the Grand Jury Prize and Olivia Colman won the Volpi Cup as best actress.

English Court, early 18th century. Two women are competing for the favors, even sexual, of Queen Anne: her assistant and companion Lady Sarah and the ambitious, former kitchen-maid, Abigail. And around, intrigues, betrayals, plots. For the first time without his historic screenwriter Efthimis Filippou, the great Greek of the disturbing cinema, Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”), succeeds in the acrobatic venture of making his film more accessible but still staying true to himself. “The Favorite” is a carousel of power – baroque, acidic, cynical, pathological, but also very amusing. With great interpretations by Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. Rating 8

Great ovation at the press screening, and even more at the official evening in the presence of the cast and the filmmaker. Also, so far, the film has gathered the most transversal consensus among the present critics. With three female performances which we will hear a lot to talk about, especially that, clamorous, of Olivia Colman, the lesbian Queen Anne, impeded by gout, and disputed between two ladies: the favorite in charge (Rachel Weisz) and the one who aspires to take her place (a Emma Stone in a hateful role that balances all the “La La Land” sugar). A female-only triangle, where power is concentrated in the hands of women and disputed between women, while men go fighting or plotting to obtain leading roles. 

England, early 18th century: the country is at war with France and at court there are two factions, the one that would like to continue despite the high costs and the opposition that would like to close the matter as soon as possible. Every means is allowed to influence the sovereign and drag her into their own side. But everyone has to deal with Lady Sarah, Anne’s personal assistant, her lover, her confidant, and even the state affairs’ admin by the queen’s undeclared delegation. 

It’s her, volatile, capable, determined, to govern and manipulate Anne for her own benefit. Until her cousin, Abigail, comes from the countryside, slipping into poverty but of aristocratic origins. That, introduced to the court as a kitchen maid, will soon be able to climb positions undermining the role of Sarah. The eternal All About Eve, with the favors of the queen as the object of desire, in a extremely ambiguous film and palindrome – indeed in this à la Lanthimos – which can be seen both as a hymn to female supremacy and, on the contrary, as a fantasy and masculine projection of castration (all those women-beast with balls). I believe that Yorgos Lanthimos has let himself be ensnared by the script for the unconventional, and not virtuously correct, representation of the female world, or rather, of the world. The naturally cynical-impassive gaze of the great Greek director and his sense of sordid can fully be unfolded through such a congenial narrative material. Everything in the movie, behind the dazzling packaging and the sumptuousness of the sets and costumes that make it (also) a film for “mams”, is morally degraded, everything is rotten, all is about self-interest, calculation, strategy, deception, game of masks. With characters that are machines driven by greed and desire of power.

Even sex – lesbian and not – is rapacity, possession of bodies, desire of control, tactics of conquest and domination. Yorgos Lanthimos makes his film more immediate, enjoyable and mainstream while remaining in the background true to himself. Playing on the dialectic of the pleasant (the costumes, the perfect acting) and the unpleasant, Lanthimos realizes an irresistible product that will go a long way and very good revenue everywhere. And if in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” we had already seen a director perfectly in control of the cinema’s machine, capable of bold and virtuosic shooting movements, here Lanthimos goes even further, with surprising techniques of daytime and nighttime long shots and a brilliant use of the fish-eye. Giving through the distortion of the images the collapse of every rectitude and linearity, even moral, of a closed and filthy universe like that of the court itself.