Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Favourite

By sati (harlequinade) Wednesday, January 16, 2019 , , , , , , , , , ,

Yorgos Lanthimos' movies are not everyone's cup of tea. They are bizarre, shocking and more often than not, very unpleasant. While they always provide a great material for actors to deliver astounding performances I was thrilled to find out The Favourite is the most accessible of his movies. And that turned out to be a correct assessment - though also strange, this film is more a dark comedy than a crazy ride like The Lobster or The Killing of the Sacred Deer.

This time Lanthimos sets the tale (not written by him unlike his other films) in 18th century England on Queen's Anne's court. Lavish costumes, grand music and lovely production design create the stage and the complicated relations between the three main characters conjure the drama that is playing right in front of us.
While The Favourite is incredibly entertaining and fascinating I was surprised that the script was distractingly sub-par to everything else in the film. The problems with the script are all to do with the way the schemes and the intrigues are written. Up until the moment when Sarah drinks the tea it's all very clever and it makes sense but ever since that moment the characters of Abigail and Sarah - so far shown to be shrewd and careful - start making absolutely ridiculous decisions. What was Abigail's plan in poisoning Sarah? What if Sarah collapsed right then and there? How would Abigail explain it?

And then it only got worse. Once Sarah is back she doesn't reveal the truth to Anne, an information like that could have led to what Sarah wanted - the banishment of Abigail. But the nail to the coffin  is the whole letter situation. Instead of giving the letter to Godolphin to hand it over to the Queen personally, Sarah simply sends it. Why doesn't she suspect Abigail will read the letter? It's outrageously stupid plot maneuver.
Those things wouldn't stick out so much if everything else wouldn't be so well written. The character development is magnificent with us seeing every main character one way when the film begins and completely different one when it ends. We begin by seeing Sarah as heartless, power hungry and manipulative but in the end we see she really felt love and cared deeply about the Queen. We begin by seeing Anne as spoiled but in the end we understand her sorrow and her solitude and we feel badly for her.

I found Anne to be the most human character in the story. Abigail and Sarah, because of the scripts' shortcomings and ridiculous plot developments I mentioned above, become inconsistent caricatures, but Anne is consistent. Even with all her eccentricities and bizarre behavior, Anne is easy to see as simply a sad, lonely woman plagued by tragedy and trying to distract herself from it. Her anger and her loneliness make her lash out in violent ways that make her look petulant but you understand why she acts the way she does.
The most fascinating character though was Abigail. At the beginning we feel badly for her because of her history and we see her as innocent, helpful, sweet person. As Abigail spends more and more time on the court she begins to climb the power ladder using the increasingly deceptive and manipulative ways. And I was rooting for her - after all, she didn't want to end up in the gutter and it's only natural that any person would do whatever they had to avoid a situation like that. But then Abigail abuses that bunny....and that is were my understanding and sympathy has ended. But then the longer the ending went on, there was that sympathy again.

What makes Abigail so interesting is the question - was she always vicious or did she simply became that, corrupted by power? The bunny moment leads me to believe it was the former as I refuse to believe anyone other than a truly evil person would harm something so innocent. But we cannot know for sure and that makes her so great to watch.
The acting is all around wonderful. It was great to see James Smith who plays Glenn in my all time favourite series The Thick of it here. Nicholas Hoult does incredible job here and he steals every single scene he is in, being effortlessly funny and incredibly entertaining to watch. But the film belongs to the trio of the actresses.

Rachel Weisz is always very good and she delivers strong performance as Sarah. She is given some of the best lines in the film and her fierce character is great to watch. But it's Emma Stone who is very, very surprising. I always liked her but I never found her to have much range and I find her turn in La La Land to be vastly overrated, like everything else in that film. Here however she is truly incredible, making us constantly wonder about what Abigail is really like. She continuously fools us and characters in the movie, making it impossible to guess what she will do next.
Olivia Colman is a revelation as the Queen and delivers some of the most wonderful acting moments an actor can deliver - when she has no lines and the camera focuses on her face Colman wordlessly conveys so much. The most striking moment is her watching Sarah dance - her admiration turning to jealousy to sadness, to rage.

The tale ultimately turns out to be a tragedy - Sarah is left without love, Anne is left without companion and Abigail  is still forced to serve someone. Through incredibly long and uncomfortable ending Lanthimos makes us go from thinking Abigail got what she deserves to feeling sorry and even horrified for her. And that's quite remarkable.

93/100
The Favourite (119 min, UK, 2018)
Plot: In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
Stars: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

30 comments:

  1. Great review. You're right...this is definitely the most accessible film by this director...I hated his two prior films, so I was super hesitant to see this. Glad I did tho! It'll easily be in my top 5 for the year! Great performances by everyone!

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  2. Oh I wish I loved this movie as much as everyone else. But unfortunately I'm one of few that had a hard time with it. I totally agree when you say the script is "distractingly sub-par". For me nothing goes on other than a power struggle for the Queen's perspective. That only carried me so far. Hoult's killer wigs are a strong point though! :)

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    1. Yeah Hoult's wigs were certainly drawing the attention :) He was really hilarious here, I had no idea he has such range

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  3. I have been waiting for your assessment of this one. I am writing mine right now, have been for a couple of days ha! How great were the costumes! I knew you'd like that. That added to the awesome camerawork and the typical Yorgos' perfect picks of classical music made it all just... grand!

    I also liked the subtle modern touches in the old setting, such as the c word lets say, and the bizarre dance too.

    I agree with most of what you said, you basically wrote a lot of what I did haha!

    Coleman was definitely the best, I am with you there. If it wasn't a Yorgos film she'd win an award.

    As for the decisions after the poisoning, I personally saw that as a continuation of the film's mockery of these aristocrats. When Weisz returns, you see that insanely bizarre and stupid tomato throwing scene with Nick Hoult in the middle of it. I saw the situation as the Queen's often childish behaviour and bad decision making finally spilling over onto Abigail and then Sarah in turn. That's just me though, i thought the very final scene kinda made that point: that these people aren't much better than rabbits.

    But its such a rewatchable flick and obviously open to interpretation. I love that you gave it such a good score!! That's either third or equal with First Reformed for your 2018 flicks yeah?

    eep, sorry for the essay of a reply. I just love your in depth stuff and how we can talk about it even if disagreeing on something :)

    Cheers!

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    1. Actually if Close didn't have her 'overdue for an Oscar' moment she would probably be winning

      I didn't think that was the point.....I thought the point was rabbits multiplying so for Anne multiplying sorrow she will never defeat and for Abigail multiplying obstacles on the court to keep her position

      First Reformed is slightly higher for me, more consistent writing

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    2. Hmmmm interesting point. I need to watch it again now just for that ending! apart from the ending tho, I think the two starting doing those rather dumb/odd things after the poisoned tea was just an example of how they were losing their marbles a bit ya know? I can def see ur point though, especially the last scene, I'm gonna keep that in mind.

      Thanks a ton for the link in the other post, I forgot to hit reply on my comment over there. I'd love to hear an honest overview of what you thought of my 'review'. You really dig into films like I do... though you seem to have a better eye for that than I do! :P But yeah I'd be listening to your critique for sure, if you can be bothered reading it all. I'm always wanting to understand the real meaning of movies like that. Like your post about Mandy... I still haven't watched it but when I do I bet it'll be... shallow =/

      Bah too much writing!!

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    3. Will read the post when I have a moment. I didnt publish your other comment cause it was in poor taste. Close winning is not something that merits such words hardly anything is

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    4. "If it wasn't a Yorgos film she'd win an award."

      "Actually if Close didn't have her 'overdue for an Oscar' moment she would probably be winning"

      This comment aged perfectly

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    5. LOL what? As have many many comments from people online, this is what happens when there is a surprise during the Oscars

      I think the fact you even had the need to leave this comment is creepy

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  4. I'm glad your review is up! I loved this, obviously. The pettiness was glorious. Your right about them making stupid choices towards the end. I chalked it up to frustration growing into recklessness but yeah, they could've went about it so much easier.

    I hope Coleman wins an Oscar for this.

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    1. Colman would be MUCH better winner than Close for that awful movie of hers

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  5. You raise a really interesting question about Abigail. I have to admit I saw her in the beginning as at least having good motives (like when she went out to make the medicine and essentially only got shit for it.) She also seemed truly surprised by how far she was willing to go and then couldn't stop herself. Did court break her or just unleash her? I did feel for all three of them though.
    Thankfully I was warned about the bunny bit.

    That Oscar should be Colman's though I have no desire to see the Wife so that's just my bias.

    Love the pic as well :)

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    1. I think she also went out to get the medicine to get in Queen's good graces, so she was really plotting from the very beginning.

      The Wife is a terrible movie. Close is great in it but the film around her is a mess

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  6. Great review! I can't wait to watch this one.

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  7. Great review! I would encourage you to watch this again, because I think Abigail and Sarah's actions in the last act hold up and even make sense. When Sarah gets back to court - having very likely been briefed by Godolphin about Abigail's marriage and newfound status - she knows that Abigail has so wormed her way into Anne's favour that she can't accuse her of anything without cold, hard proof, which she doesn't have. She also knows that Godolphin has fallen out of the Queen's favour, so there is no guarantee that he would be able to get her letter to Anne anyway.

    We also know that Abigail knows her herbs pretty well, so it's easy to assume she would know how long the poison would take to work. I don't think she knew or planned for Sarah to go out riding immediately after, she just wanted to get her out of the way for long enough to get Anne to push through her marriage.

    I liked this even more on second viewing, although there's a WHOLE LOT of really interesting history that would have deepened the story and characters that they left out. I didn't miss it the first time, but knowing it before the second time through I wondered why they didn't include it. For example, Anne was so far down the line of succession that no one, least of all her, ever thought she would be Queen, so she had no training at all in politics or international relations or governing, which is a large part of why Sarah got to such a position of power. Also, Nicholas Hoult's character (GOD he's so good - I wish he would be getting awards, too) was also a cousin to Abigail!

    Good lord, Emma Stone was so unexpectedly great in this. Every line reading, every facial expression is just priceless.

    So glad you loved this almost as much as I did!

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    1. Thank you! Yeah I definitely need to see it again but I have so much time to watch the rewatches must wait. It did play out in the way where I think Sarah was unaware of Abigail's status so she could have marched straight into Queen's chambers to tell her what happened instead of taunting Abigail

      Still the letter thing would be worth a try, it would be a far better alternative than just sending it.

      I think Abigail was still not an expert so she couldn't possibly know what the herbs would do, in any case that seemed like a very risky plan to me

      Wow that is fascinating! I did read a little bit on wikipedia about it. Still they conveyed a lot of it in the movie, and the fact Anne has experienced such insanely huge tragedy was enough for me to buy she was more than happy to let Sarah de facto rule the country

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  8. A simply splendid review, one of my favourites of yours. Talk about three exceptional performances from the central trio. And it was so deliciously dark, unusual and biting.

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  9. Nice review! There's a lot going on under the surface for the three characters, especially Abigail. The performances are spectacular, and this is probably my favorite of Yorgos so far.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah same here, everything else is just not very enjoyable, this one I could rewatch!

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  10. Trying to keep myself away from reviews and spoilers for this one because I really want to see it! I heard almost that we wouldn't have gotten it in our cinemas at all.. but since it started to win awards, they put it in so now it will premier much later than it should have.

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    1. I hope you get to see it soon, I think you'll like it!

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  11. I heard the hype before I watched it and it exceeded my expectations. My own allegiances kept shifting until the very end but man, that last shot just left me reeling. I know the Oscar race seems to be between Gaga and Close but I'm rooting for Olivia. great review!!

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  12. Great analysis and you picked up on things I missed. I prefer the films Lanthimos co-wrote himself which I find more inventive, though I agree The Favourite is entertaining and well-acted.

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  13. Great review! Definitely Lanthimos' most accessible film yet, which really speaks to his artistry, because this movie is such a singular work of art. I'm so happy you liked it!

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    1. I really did! I wish the script was a bit better but the performances alone made it into a great movie

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