Cinematic Releases: The Favourite (2018) - Reviewed

The filmography of Yorgos Lanthimos is an uncomfortable foray into a multitude of hellish dimensions, all of which explore the darkness of relationships.  Be it the internal purgatory of strained familial dynamics or the external malediction of society's obsession with sex and marriage, Lanthimos explores these horrifyingly mundane truths with pitch black humor and a quasi-supernatural comprehension of the human condition.  His latest offering, The Favourite is not only one of the greatest films of 2018, it is also Lanthimos' most accessible film to date, while still maintaining the bizarre sense of dread that pervades all of his previous works.  Featuring a legendary trio of performances, breathtaking production design, and some of the best camera work of the century, this is a cinematic delight not to be missed.  

In 18th century England, an unpopular war divides the country, while a former noblewoman seeks to reclaim her station by inserting herself into the confidence of Queen Anne.  This puts her at odds with her cousin, a noblewoman whose currently holds Anne's affection, setting up an unforgettable game of sexual politics, devious power plays, and unabashed vulgarity.  Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara's script is sensational, blending period appropriate pomp and circumstance with modern sensibilities. One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is how it is layered.  On the surface is a masterful story about court intrigue, but this is blended with a heartbreaking dissertation on the price of power and the inherent sadness that accompanies the crown, forever haunting those who wear it. 

Beneath this lies a complex and ultimately tragic love story and it is this revelation that exposes just how good The Favourite is.  Olivia Colman delivers the performance of the year as Queen Anne.  Colman's Anne a living contradiction, a titan of personality and presence that is also irrevocably bereft.  She is supported by Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, each of which gives career high performances.  Weitz in particular is charmingly savage, using a mixture of antiquated and modern vernacular to inject each verbal jab with feminine fury.  Rounding out the trio is Emma Stone as Abigail, the disgraced noblewoman.  Stone's sublime turn slowly reveals the power of obsession while dovetailing with the more disquieting side of games of court.  The result is an amalgam of rage and pride that coalescences inside of a world of rituals and intricacies.

Robbie Ryan continues to show that he is one of the best working cinematographers in the medium.  Building off his work in American Honey, Ryan depicts Lanthimos' England as a creature in distress, with casual cruelties, bizarre customs, and endless excess all housed under notions of propriety and chivalry.  The lush outdoor environs of the palace are filmed as an expansive, near limitless dimension of vibrant colors and hidden dangers while the interiors are shadow filled corridors and sanitized galleries.  Freedom and the lack thereof are of import and these concepts swirl within every frame.  Both lighting and lens choice constantly evolve through each of the films acts as Abigail journeys into an inverted Wonderland.  Where the America of Honey was a desolate waste of forgotten dreams, Ryan's careful attention to detail creates a world of gilded cancer, dying while imprisoned within its own opulence.  

Yorgos Mavropsaridis' preternatural editing combines with Fiona Crombie's production design to transport the audience into a familiar, yet alien world.  The Favourite appears to be a period piece, but disciples of Lanthimos will find much to enjoy as he subverts expectations again and again.  Sandy Powell's costume designs are yet another potent addition, delivering decadent ensembles that will most likely capture gold this awards season.  

In theaters now, The Favourite is an extraordinary artistic experience.  Combining everything Lanthimos is loved (and hated) for with three once in a lifetime performances yields one of the most powerful films of the year.  Darkly funny, profane, and absolutely merciless, this one is not to be missed, both by casual movie goers and the most studied film lovers.  

- Kyle Jonathan