It hasn’t even been a year since the first audiences saw Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘The Favourite’ at the Venice Film Festival, and the film already feels like a classic. Perhaps this is due to its enormous critical and strong commercial success, culminating in the surprise win for Olivia Colman for Best Actress at the Oscars. Perhaps it is because of the vivid and uncompromising portrait it paints of women in power and the existential horror of entrapment. Or perhaps it’s just because ‘The Favourite’ is such a goddamn riot, artistically thrilling and deliciously entertaining, exploding with wit, vicious to the bone, balls-to-the-wall bizarre and so utterly and entirely of itself.
It’s also a film where the satisfaction and enjoyment of it continues to grow upon revisiting. Lanthimos is one of those rare filmmakers that can ask an audience to work a little harder than usual and still deliver an extraordinary film. Upon second viewing, knowing where the narrative is heading, where the relationships will ultimately culminate and collapse, reveals more complex layers and meanings within the film. The motivations of the three central woman become clearer. Sarah (Rachel Weisz) protects her position of power to the death, not just for her benefit but for Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman), acting as her jailer, protector and lover. Abigail (Emma Stone) must destroy Sarah’s position for her own safety, every vicious blow she delivers only amplifying her paranoia at losing the ground she has gained. And at the centre of it all is Queen Anne, conditioned into a position of submission by Sarah and her circumstances, and literally breaking to pieces with existential desperation at how trapped and lonely she has become. It’s a battle to the death for all three of them, but what becomes so fascinating on revisiting is how carefully the power play shifts. Sarah’s ruthlessness hides a deep and genuine love for Anne, one that she only fully reveals when it is too late. Abigail is driven, not by ambition, but by blind fear, like an animal backed into a corner violently trying to protect itself at all costs. And Anne, appearing weakened, is revealed as perhaps the most powerful and most aware, the character who in the end fully realises her fate and resigns to it with fury, literally holding others down as a life raft to stop herself from drowning. That all three characters are as significant, arresting and powerful as each other is thanks to the remarkable performances from all three women, each delivering arguably their finest performances to date. Their chemistry together is delicious, the command of their characters is thunderous, and they relish every moment they have on screen.
You are also able to fully appreciate what a remarkable piece of filmmaking ‘The Favourite’ is. Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is absurdly beautiful and wildly inventive, capturing a world of period textures and natural light with the visual immediacy of a Looney Tunes cartoon. His camera manages to be subjective and objective all at once, the distortion of the image revealing the inner world of the characters, while their placement within the frame establishes a cruel and often hilarious distance. The world constructed by production designer Fiona Crombie and costume designer Sandy Powell is beautifully complete, but wonderfully never subscribes to a faithful recreation of period. ‘The Favourite’ is history and period viewed through a mirror, familiar yet distorted, realistic yet unnatural. This radical approach to the period film, like a carnival mirror distorting Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’, allows the film to feel modern and immediate without losing its authenticity. This really becomes Lanthimos’ secret weapon, allowing him a control over image, texture and tone that’s often symphonic, and daring in a manner that most films aren’t, let alone period films. This is his most accessible film, but he manages to make it so without relinquishing what makes him such a singular filmmaker. Lanthimos is a master of chaos, and ‘The Favourite’ is his most anarchic circus yet.
Lanthimos is a master of chaos, and ‘The Favourite’ is his most anarchic circus yet.
I was totally bowled over by this film the first time I saw it, and have been every time I’ve revisited it since. It’s almost insane how well everything falls into place, how even its craziest moments can leave you dumbstruck, aching and crying with laughter. That it only walked away with one Oscar win is absurd, and one of those facts we’ll bring up in five years time with head-shaking disbelief. ‘The Favourite’ is a modern classic, one of those rare gems where everything falls so perfectly into place and only gets better and better every time you see it. In fact, the more I do, the more I’m convinced it might even be a masterpiece.
PICTURE & SOUND
‘The Favourite’ was shot on 35mm and finished in a 2K DI, and its transition onto Blu-ray makes for a gorgeous 1080p 1.85:1 transfer. The eclectic use of lenses and an intended rough quality means this was never going to be a reference-quality image, but the manner in which the transfer recreates the original artistic intent is wonderful, with a strong level of detail, a consistent and rich colour palette, and a strong layer of natural film grain. This further adds to its sense of immediacy and chaos. The transfer is accompanied by a spirited DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, far more active than you would expect from a period film. The track allows you to take in many of the smaller details in the complex sound design, and everything is beautifully balanced and clear.
The disc includes a small collection of extras, beginning with a series of deleted and alternate scenes (2:47), none of which are important to the plot but offer a few extra moments with these wonderful characters. The main feature, ‘The Favourite: Unstitching the Costume Drama’ (22:19), offers a short but thorough look at the making of the film, the relationship between all the major artists involved and Lanthimos’ directorial approach. It’s a much stronger featurette than a standard EPK, and makes up in many cases for the lack of a commentary. The set is rounded off with the film’s theatrical trailer.