Sunday, July 21, 2024

A period piece with some serious bite

In 2017, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos shocked audiences with “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” a horror movie that centered around kidnapping, infidelity and demonic curses. It would only make sense that his next film would be a period piece that has earned 10 Oscar nominations so far this year.

“The Favourite” is set in 18th-century England; a frail Queen Anne, portrayed by Olivia Colman is occupying the throne. Her mental and physical instability has made the people very skeptical in her leadership abilities, and she relies heavily on her close friend, Lady Sarah, played by Rachel Weisz, to assist in governing the country. One day, a new servant, Abigail, portrayed by Emma Stone, begins working at the palace. Her arrival transforms this partnership into a struggle for the Queen’s attention and trust. 

Colman pointed out in an interview with BBC 5 Live that she is not a more important lead than the two “supporting” actresses in the cast, which is absolutely correct.

The three of them deliver smart, strong and empathetic performances but are made even better when they share a scene. 

Nicholas Holt deserves attention for his performance as the Queen’s loyal opposition, Robert Harley. He is always trying to stay on topic when it comes to politics while Lady Sarah and Abigail constantly mock him. He has a great sense of simmering anger that is made even better by the great costume design. 

Mr. Harley and the other male characters have long garish wigs that are hilarious and undercut any sense of political urgency. 

These great performances wouldn’t be memorable if it weren’t for the incredibly sharp screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. While the characters revel in back and forth insults and double entendres, there is a scene where we learn that Queen Anne is not just unstable, but she is grieving. 

It is a quiet and intimate moment where she lets down her guard and this “twist” transforms our perception of her. This sense of heartbreak makes it one of the most empathetic characters of this awards season.

The sense of location and set design of the palace is phenomenal. The film was shot on location in the Hatfield House of England, which makes everything feel lived in and realistic. Yorgos Lanthimos and cinematographer Robbie Ryan take advantage of the space, as the camera crawls on the floor, hovers over the characters and whips around gigantic rooms. It is this kind of varied camerawork use that always makes it interesting to watch and it never gets boring. There is also a use of fisheye lens, that bends the corners of the image into an almost spherical shape; this subtly shows us that the politics are distorted and not everything is as it seems. 

Out of the eight nominees for Best Picture this year at the Oscars, this is hands down my favorite of them. It is rare when every aspect of filmmaking comes together seamlessly. “The Favourite” brings the past back to life with such a creative edge that I guarantee it will stick with you long after the credits roll.

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