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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.15.18] Ireland (Republic of) comedy drama

Yorgos Lanthimos' English-language films have been just as strange as his Greek output but the introduction of Hollywood to his method has yielded a couple of very interesting projects and in the case of his latest, his most accessible film to date.

The Favourite stars Lanthimos regular Rachel Weisz as Lady Sarah, a high-ranking lady in the court of Queen Anne (a brilliant Olivia Colman) who also has the Queen's ear in everything. The two are long-time friends and it's clear from early on that Lady Sarah is the one leading the country; the powerful woman behind the Queen. Into this cozy arrangement comes Abigail (Emma Stone), an enterprising cousin of Lady Sarah who comes to the castle in search of a job and sees a way to raise herself above her station by winning the Queen's favour.

And so it is that over the course of two hours, we watch Abigail lie, plot and connive, raising herself from lowly Lady's maid to the Queen's favourite, leaving Lady Sarah on the outside.

The themes of The Favourite are not uncommon and even in period dramas they tend to be central to stories of Kings and Queen but Lanthimos' movie is anything but typical.

Written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, the film focuses almost exclusively on the power dynamic between three women, a pleasant change when one considers that these types of period dramas, even when they involve a Queen, tend to focus on the men rather than the women. For the most part, the men in The Favourite are secondary characters, played as either objects of desire or desperate and power-hungry and reliant on the good graces the women in charge to get their ideas heard.

The script is itself full of small comedic moments but Lanthimos plays into them heavily which works wonders to accentuate the ridiculousness of period dramas while introducing the ugly and dirty side of the 18th century to the movie, a reality which is often overlooked. He brings to light the dichotomy of the times by brilliantly capturing both the beautiful production design and costuming and then closing in on something ugly; turning focus to a close up of character in garish make-up or the Queen dealing with one of her many ailments.

All of this plays background filled to the chess game played by Weisz and Stone whose conniving and backstabbing, which begins as a friendly game of one-upmanship, turns downright ugly.

It may not have spawned from Lanthimos' mind but The Favourite is as much a Lanthimos movie as any he has made before but without some of the oddity of his previous films, notably his use of language and non-linear plotting which makes his films more challenging than your average movie. The Favourite is a simple, straightforward story of one woman's plotting to get ahead and in the process, it tackles some of the ideas which are essential to Lanthimos' other films; themes of power, control, love and humanity's propensity for obsession.

The Favourite opens November 23.

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