The favourite is Yorgos Lanthimos latest film, set in the later years of Queen Anne’s reign of England and the bitter competition between two women in court to curry her favour. Lanthimos started life as a director of ultra-weird Greek language indy films, earning some fame with his acclaimed work “Dogtooth”. He then edged slightly more into the mainstream with two English language films: “the lobster” and “the killing of a sacred deer”. The favourite is Lanthimos’ most mainstream work to date, but retains much of the dry weirdness that make his early films such a treat.
As the film opens, Queen Anna, portrayed by the always brilliant Olivia Coleman, decides whether to continue the war with France, or to sue for peace. Her decision rests on which or her courtiers she finds most charming on that day. Her favourite, Lady Marlborough, played by Rachel Weisz, councils her to continue the war. This special relationship is destabilised by the arrival of a new maid, Abigail (Emma Stone). The film revolves around the rivalry between the two women, as they compete for favour with the Queen.
The dialog is knowingly anorchristic, but always sharp, as is the weirdly atonal soundtrack. Unusually the film has no real heros: the two women are manipulative and cruel, all of the male characters are stupid and selfish. Coleman’s queen Anna is disgusting, and unconcerned about the lives of her subjects, but elicits sympathy nonetheless; she keeps 17 pet rabbits in her bedchambers, one for every child she has lost.
Also ever present is Lanthimos’ flare for social satire; as the war with France claims the lives of tens of thousands of men the court is most concerned with an orgy of consumption. One particularly poignant scene sees a naked Tory MP being pelted with mushy oranges for the amusement of the prime minister.
The often historical points and unloveable characters don’t stop this film from being highly enjoyable, maybe because of the well paced unrelentingly witty dialog beautifully enacted in Lanthimos’ characteristic wooden style by the three leads, as well as the films cutting mockery of a rotten political class. The film might not be for everyone, some may find the wooden delivery distracting, some may find some of the more disgusting scenes a little too much to bear, but the film’s audience will love it, and I count myself among their number.