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MOVIES: (LFF 2018) The Favourite - Review

The Favourite is a film that has all the right ingredients to be an Oscar hit, feeling like what would happen if Armando Iannucci wrote Whit Stillman's Love & Friendship. It is a period drama/comedy with an excellent cast that makes the most out of Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Nicholas Hoult. But despite everything that it has going for it such as the well-polished script, one of the best uses of the C-Word of the year on film, and the talented director, it can’t help but feel like a weaker effort by Yorgos Lanthimos, but that only goes to show just how incredible The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Lobster are. It is however the director's most accessible film yet and given that it will probably be his most successful film yet, this is clearly a good thing.

Colman plays Queen Anne, a frail, easily manipulated Monarch who is constantly changing her mind about her decisions and allowing her close childhood friend Lady Sarah Churchill (Weisz) to essentially govern the country in her place. This is a status quo that has existed for an age until the arrival of Emma Stone’s servant Abigail threatens to overthrow everything that Sarah worked so hard to achieve. Despite starting on the best of terms it quickly turns into a dog-eat-dog competition with both sides, Sarah and Abigail, doing everything that they can do to earn and keep earning the ear and attention of the Queen. It’s a thankless task that has both on edge, and as their schemes escalate over the course of the film it’s only a matter of time before things turn out to be deadly.

The costume and set design in The Favourite is impeccable and it’s hard not to fault Lanthimos’ direction. It’s talented and well choreographed, nothing feels claustrophobic and nothing feels clumsily edited, and it's always easy to tell who's where regardless of the location. The Favourite shines at its best when it makes the most out of the actors, with Stone and Weisz playing off against each other well, first as potential friends who understand each other, and then again as rivals, watched over by an all-seeing Colman who is well deserving of the best actress nomination that she is inevitably going to get, if not the best actress win. Stone gets more screen-time than Weisz but both actresses are effective in what they do, and it's not unfeesable to see both getting nominated for supporting actress for the same film.

The script does meander at times even if the dialogue is on point and as sharp as ever (“he’s completely cuntstruck by you” is one of the best lines in the entire film in the context of its delivery, and out of the films that I’ve seen at the London Film Festival so far, the only things that came close to matching the laughter that this film earned were in the opening two chapters of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and most of Sorry to Bother You). It's safe to say that The Favourite opts for a more outwardly comedic approach than Lanthimos’ previous work, which is a good thing. But as mentioned before, something feels lacking and it never really has the staying power, feeling at times much too like a standard conventional period dramedy rather than bringing that something extra to the table that Lanthimos normally does with his films.

Yet despite this The Favourite rarely stumbles. What most people feared would happen when Lanthimos directed off a script he didn’t write would happen didn’t happen, and on top of that, it should also be worth mentioning that you’ll be hard pushed to find another film that comes out this year with a better duck than Horatio: The Fastest Duck in the City. Like the film itself, the duck left an impression and this is going to be one of the biggest talking points in the Oscar race which is edging ever closer.

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