In cinematic terms, historical accuracy is something of a dirty phrase. It is often used by critics to lambast a director’s latest effort and cast doubts as to the authenticity of the storytelling on display. Many films have come unstuck by abusing the audience’s perception of historical truth to the point that they can no longer enjoy the film in its own right. It is therefore perhaps the biggest compliment of all to say that I couldn’t have cared less about historical accuracy in Yorgos Lanthimos latest film The Favourite.
I get a sense that the director himself was similarly disinterested in the legitimacy of the films historical accuracy. For one, there is no obligatory title card stating what year the film is set. And although an ever looming ‘war with the French’ hangs over the film’s narrative we are never bogged down with dates or details. This is not to say that the film is filled with anachronisms or strays into the realms of disbelief. Simply put I feel Lanthimos priority is clearly the relationships of his three central characters as opposed to minute historical detail. And the film is all the better for it.
The story opens with Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) arriving at the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) having fallen on hard times and in desperate need of accommodation and employment. Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) the Queens closest advisor, decides against her better judgement to take Abigail under her wing. Having gained the approval of Lady Sarah and the attention of the Queen, Abigail quickly begins to make a name for herself at court prompting desire, anger and jealousy from her newfound peers.
The film then blossoms into an anarchic power struggle between the three central characters. The narrative is personal and political in equal measure showing the influence one can have over the other and vice versa. The further the film progresses the more you wonder how far these characters will go to see their ambitions met. By the time the third act comes around, it seems as if nothing is off the table, with sex, poison and blackmail all readily disposable.
Lanthimos and Director of Photography Robbie Ryan frame this chaos with glee and aren’t afraid to stray away from the conventions of a ‘period drama’. Shot on 35mm film and utilising such unconventional techniques as a ‘whip-pan’ (a 360-degree swivel that flicks the camera from one character to another) the film has a clear visual aesthetic that feels utterly unique, especially within the costume drama sub-genre.
Despite its gorgeous production design, unique cinematography philosophy and enlightening abandon of historical restrictions The Favourite will undoubtedly be remembered for its three central performances. It is hard to recall a modern effort which has presented three actors in such scintillating form. Stone’s Abigail is far from the wide-eyed serving girl most characters perceive her to be. Her transition from puppet to puppet master is masterfully subtle and is reminiscent of her darker performance in 2014’s Birdman. Weisz is similarly compelling as Lady Sarah and is as uncompromising as she is fierce in a wonderfully layered and considered performance. Finally, Olivia Colman’s turn as Queen Anne is arguably the pillar that holds the whole film up. The way Colman shows the weight of such responsibility on someone who has suffered such personal tragedy is absolutely mesmerising. Her performance is hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure and is thoroughly deserving of her long overdue awards recognition.
The Favourite is original, ballsy and unfaltering in its ferocity as well as its fragility. Its performances are something to behold and will stay with you long after the credits roll. Lanthimos has crafted a film that is well worth your attention, and more importantly, your time.