'The Favourite' wins Grand Special Jury Prize at Venice debut

By Moira Sullivan

Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has won multiple prizes at A – list film festivals including best film at Un Certain Regard at Cannes for Dogtooth in 2009, the Jury Prize at Cannes for The Lobster and Best screenplay for the Killing of a Sacred Deer at Cannes in 2017 – his films plays on language and absurd imaginative encounters.

His latest film The Favourite which won the Grand Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival where it debuted August 30 and is perhaps his most intelligible film  using the conventional form of the historical drama.

The title of the film has to do with a specific role of a favored person to the royal court of the time, which includes various levels of intimacy including same sex love or otherwise.

The film is about two female lovers to the mid 16th and 17th century regent Queen Anne of England and Ireland (played by Olivia Colman -who took home the Volpi cup at Venice) – and the last of the Stuarts one noted in history – Sarah Churchill (Weisz), the Duchess of Marlborough, her cousin Abigail Hill – who becomes The Favourite – played by Emma Stone. Not only is Queen Anne presented as a bungling child who keeps a ménage of rabbits– a woman who in real live had 17 children that died at childbirth but her entire cabinet and ministry are incompetent.

Lanthimos’ characters in his films are mostly cruel and sadistic and this film though more realistic in its story telling form presents a tale of royal corruption and negligence. While courtesans engage in training ducks for races, Anne played brilliantly by the distinguished British actress Olivia Colman has for years been attended by Lady Marlborough who advises her politically and personally. Sarah’s husband the Duke of Marlborough is a military commander . Anne is seduced by Abigail an opportunistic fallen lady who wants to get back up again and that was traded to an elderly man in a gambling loss. Anne’s loyal and capable Sarah who manages court affairs and loves her is incrementally passed over by her younger cousin who is ignorant with no knowledge of politics or affairs of state. For example, she calls military strategy party games and what is worse is that Anne agrees. Abigail manages to poison Sarah’s tea who is dragged by her horse for miles and taken in by a madam at a brothel to recuperate. While she is away things go amuck – Robert Harley the 1st Earl of Oxford and an unscrupulous statesman (Nicholas Hoult, Nicholas Hoult ) becomes Queen Anne’s prime minister. Abigail is married off again, on the books as a gambling debt to a baron at court.

Though this film has some resemblance to history it is Lanthimos ’creation . His focus on the lovers of Queen Anne as predatory and conniving women was confirmed at Venice by him that this is not a film about lesbians. Though in mid 16th -17th century England there was no LGBT movement, no identification as a lesbian or gay person as today. That someone of 2018 conveys insists the film is not about women who love women is says more about him than the historical period he tries to illustrate.

As a film the cinematography is excellent and the story telling creative and magical. But what has happened with Queen Anne’s court in the hands of this Greek director is that everyone is a bungling fool involved in narcissistic games. Perhaps Abigail knowledge of the healing power of herbs is one of the only real things in this film. The political maneuvers the military expeditions, Anne’s ignorance as regent and those who serve her paint a dismal portrait of the time – rather, Lanthimos’s palette creates this absurd artifice.

What can one say about these world class actors playing in this farce – they are all excellent in their portraits. Rachel Weisz more so for she is the only character who has ethics, virtues and passion for her country, for her regent but Anne’s childish nature outdoes all, and her lack of discrimination cause her to replace Sarah for a younger opportunistic damsel who uses her to become a Lady, and the meaning of that word for her character was never more completely false in his absurd revisionist history of a 16th century royal and her court.

© 2018 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 09/26/18
Movie Magazine International