By Ermioni Pavlidou,
This is the third part of the tribute dedicated to the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, and we are discussing his latest film: The Favourite (2018). It was directed and co-produced by Yorgos Lanthimos. The screenplay was written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, a rare occurrence is the absence of the Efthymis Filippou in the writing part, since he is usually involved in Lanthimos’s screenplays. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 75th Venice International Film Festival, 7 BAFTA Awards, and received 10 nominations at the 91st Academy Awards. Spoiler-free.
The film is set in the 1700s’ Great Britain in the midst of the English-French wars. It circles the course of three women of the aristocracy, fighting for power through the combination of sex and politics, via the humorous narration in the Queen’s Court. These three women are: Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman), the last monarch of the House Stuart; and two cousins who are “ladies of the court” Sarah (Rachel Weisz), the established and trusted protegee of the Queen, her lover, and Abigail (Emma Stone), a fallen but determined aristocrat fighting for her attention and antagonising each other for the usurpation of the privileges the “Favourite” will obtain. And so, the backstabbing and plotting begin.
The film deals with gender roles and sexuality in a socio-political and historical context that is also projected into the issues. Abigail’s muddy arrival in the Royal Court creates a disturbance in the order of things and the race of power-hunting resumes in a more apparent way. The scheming and the plotting pre-exist, and it is accentuated through the classic choice of surreal elements such as ridiculous wigs and theatrically nonchalant performances.
This is yet another problematic “house” in the broader sense, where the sexual relations between the three women are intertwined with the acquisition of power. Each one is presented in a symbolic way. The Queen has 17 rabbits as a substitute for the children she has lost; Sarah who is emotionally distant but successful at conditioning the Queen into thinking she needs her, and Abigail, the effete royalty with an initial appearance full of mud and an acute determination to climb again from where she fell in the social ladder.
Power is flowing in the hands of a depressed and sick Queen, who is advised by over-achieving trustees, is manipulated at times and claims it at others. The person who holds the utmost authority and grasps the handles of a nation appears weak and under the influence of covetous predators that are pursuing her in a completely different way. Sarah holds the card of both the friendly and erotic affection, although reserved. She has been close with the Queen for a long time and has carefully established a trust she has taken advantage of until it was quickly shaken after her cousin’s arrival. She does not test limits and moves slowly, but she is later forced to be more daring when she realises that she is losing.
Abigail, on the other hand, is unnoticeably cunning and promiscuous, she plays the innocence-naivety card to inspire pity, and this is how she is given the position of the maid. She makes herself be underestimated by others so she can be steps ahead of them. She begins playing the game before others realise it is a game. She knows the expectations the Queen has after having read her correctly and plays into her fantasy.
The movie is excellent and frankly funny while simultaneously semi-serious and dark tale about the backstabbing and overachieving English post-Renaissance elite, turned into a royal fight for survival with sexual foundation and a female-centred behaviour in the handling of the power dynamics; that is unfolding through the tricks Lanthimos’s fisheye lens offers.