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Period dramas aren’t something that I actively seek out to watch in my free time, and the genre label is quite off-putting for me. However, every once in a while they’ll be one that nearly everyone is talking about and I’ll probably check out due to the hype. I don’t remember ever having such a wild and bawdy ride watching a period film, as The Favourite delivers a genre-defying account of three queer tragic-comic women scheming for power and agency in 18th century England. Brought to life by eccentric auteur Yorgos Lanthimos, the director behind macabre offerings such as The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer, The Favourite brims with constant energy, with its genre-hopping and welcome sense of humour that makes this picture the most satisfying film of his career. It also bodes three powerhouse performances from its leads that embrace their well-drawn characters and enliven all of their various misdeeds and schemes with such a spirit that you don’t want the credits to roll. It’s such a welcome surprise that an awards season that’s been dominated by half-baked biopics and blockbusters has shown their love for such a vastly different film. Who doesn’t want to see a film where Olivia Colman and Emma Stone play with 17 adorable rabbits and Rachel Weisz draws a mud moustache on her face in a power ploy to make her rival seethe with jealousy?
Underneath all the duck races and energetic 18th century breakdancing, the film is laced with tragedies, as these three women lose so much over the course of the narrative. Each actress has the welcome opportunity to show off their unexpected skills in physical comedy, but they all display moments of vulnerability and sad desperation that make us sympathise with them. Colman’s Queen Anne is hilarious with all her histrionics and mischief, but she is also an incredibly lonely woman who has lost so many—the symbolic meaning of her many pet rabbits reveals a lot of suppressed trauma that is actually heartbreaking. She’s also troubled with various physical ailments that make it difficult for her to even move. This is where Stone’s character finds a way in, noticing the Queen’s distress due to her gout, she finds something in the forest to ail her with and quickly becomes one of her valued companions. Stone is amazing as Abigail in a go-for-broke role that sees her smack herself in the face with a book repeatedly and give a hand job to her husband while plotting revenge on Weisz’s Sarah Churchill. Abigail and Sarah’s intense rivalry as siblings is very entertaining, as these polar opposites constantly collide to each other’s detriment as Abigail seeks to make herself known, due to her family leaving her with literally nothing, while Sarah desperately attempts to cling onto her power after her maltreatment of the Queen has left her out of favour. Stone’s plucky enthusiasm has become a reliable draw in her films, and watching her compete with Weisz’s devious energy is so fun that you are filled with dread about both of their eventual outcomes as they constantly try to push the other further away from Anne. Not to mention, Nicholas Hoult and his array of enormous wigs and Joe Alwyn’s tortured (he’s literally thumped by Stone numerous times) love-struck Samuel who come in and offer Abigail opportunities that will gain her the power and status she once had, seeking to manipulate Anne into giving her. Each narrative beat constantly shifts genre to give an unpredictable viewing that makes you consistently question who will be on top at film’s end.
The Favourite often utilises both physicality and excellent dialogue to liven up these endless deceits and plots with a wonderfully dark comedic tone that is aided by the fisheye lens cinematography and jolty upbeat score that capture the distorted world this film is set in. It also deals out so many period drama taboos that makes the film quite radical with its explicit language and adulterous homosexual affairs between the three leading women that would otherwise never be seen in a tamer film. This is the kind of Queer Cinema that needs to be made more often with characters not defined by their sexuality and who are capable of so much more than existing in a tragic love affair. These characters’ rough edges make them some of the most exciting queer characters I’ve ever seen in any medium, and it’s disappointing that no award show has saw that all three of the talented women onscreen are lead and should be recognised as such for their tremendous work in a thrilling film that is truly worthy of all of the awards it's collecting.