*. A Yorgos Lanthimos film that’s a bit different. But does it mark a real change in direction?
*. The first thing you’d notice is that it’s a historical costume drama, which even given its casual attitude to history still seems out of character. Then there’s the screenplay, which wasn’t written by Efthymis Filippou (who had scripted or co-scripted Dogtooth, Alps, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer). You’d have to think that would make a difference.
*. And it does. The characters we meet in The Favourite are real people, played naturalistically. Which is to say they are not the robots found in Lanthimos’s other films. When they have sex they even seem to enjoy it.
*. Of course, this is still a Lanthimos movie so there are some familiar elements. It’s another moral fable, this time on power. It’s set in a place where ritual formalities, enforced by casual violence, override human feeling. There’s a weird dance scene. There’s a quietly ambiguous ending.
*. Somehow it doesn’t quite add up though. There’s a heavy use of a wide angle lens to give even exteriors a fishbowl appearance. Why? I’m not sure. I’ve read some explanations but they seem far-fetched to me. I also found the script, by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, disappointing. Certain metaphors — the shooting, the rabbits — are overused and obvious. The second half of the movie drags because it’s clear where everything is going. And finally isn’t the message a bit banal? Love is impossible between unequals; it just becomes a duty at best, and at worst a form of abuse.
*. Sure the cast is good (meaning the three leading ladies: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone), but I don’t think they have that much to do. They seem more like types than characters to me. When Olivia Colman won an Academy Award for Best Actress it surprised a lot of people, not because she isn’t fine in the part but because the part itself is so basic. The final scene is one of only two where it seems as though she has thoughts in her head. Meanwhile, is there anything profound about the look on Abigail’s face at that same moment? She’s surprised that this is where all her machinations have landed her?
*. Maybe it isn’t about very much. My own reading of it is that it has something to say about how, underneath the big events of history (the war with France here), there are always a bunch of little people, doing all the usual mean little things that people do. Like fucking each other (over), racing ducks, and eating cake. And by little people I include the Queen and her favourites. Power doesn’t make you special, just a different kind of monster.