Girls’ wars (The Favourite movie review)

Yorgos Lanthimos in his latest movie “The Favourite” takes us back to XVIII century. England is at war with France, but the camera doesn’t go to the battle field; on the contrary – it stays where the queen Anne (awesome Olivia Colman) and her entourage is. The director creates a grotesque, tragic and ridiculously funny portrait of the royal court that seems to be in the state of a permanent war between its own members. When English soldiers (whose presence in the entire narration is rather negligible, almost imperceptible) are fighting for their country, queen and aristocracy is absorbed by duck racing and the fact the pineapples have appeared on the market. Lanthimos presents English royal palace as a vanity fair, but he not only repeats stereotypes, but also – or above all – pushes them through the filter of aesthetics of absurd and turns into elements of subversive narration that uses the poetics of carnival to create a upside-down reality that has the power of deconstructing the official discourse. Nevertheless, “The Favourite” is not only a great satire, but also a bitter tale about terrifying loneliness, trauma that leaves you only half alive, and – last but not least – misery of people entangled in aristocratic intrigues and swamps.

Queen Anne, who is in rather poor mental condition, sits on the throne, but here position is only symbolical, because it’s her close friend Lady Sarah (amazing Rachel Weisz), who really rules the country. With admirable devotion, she looks after the impetuous, peevish, spoiled and generally instable matron. Her care initially seems to be a symptom of self-serving, but the director constantly confuses the audience and avoids black and white pictures. At the end, one can’t be sure if Sarah is the one who empowers herself by weakening the queen or if Anne is the one who puts her friend in a position of subordination and only illusionary independence.

The relation between these two heroines gets even more complicated when a new, charming servant Abigail (great Emma Stone) arrives at the court, and seduces both – Sarah and Anne. She quickly manages to leave the ordinary maid’s room and become the titled favourite. She becomes an embodiment of a trickster as an ambivalent figure, who at the same time destroys old order and creates new one; who is as devilish and divine at the same time. The movie’s dramaturgy is based on her character – the audience follows her actions to realize that she has not much in come with a sweet girl that moves heart that she makes impression of.

Lanthimos’s is also a movie that deconstructs the illusionary nature of traditional opposition between private and public. In “The Favourite” the borders between courtroom and boardroom are pretty liquid – the matters of state are intertwined by personal affairs and together create an explosive mixture that makes the entire movie. The director phenomenally portraits and directs the tensions between three heroines and lets all situation be ambiguous and ridiculous at the same time. The protagonists not only every now and then put on new masks, but also are being orchestrated by the others. It becomes very unclear who is a victim and who should be considered a perpetrator; who manipulates and who is being trapped; who really cares and who is the best actress. Power in “The Favourite” goes form hand to hand, and its direction is being navigated not only by authority or violence, by – above all – by lust. Sensitivity can be a threat and indifference can turn out to be a blessing. The director gives to his actresses space to incredible and memorable performances and each of them is making the best possible use of it, but Colman is the one who shines the brightest – she is helpless and calculated at the same time; infantile and aggressive; arouses terror and sympathy – once you want to give her a hug and a few seconds later you are disgusted by her.

The director, who first time directs a Hollywood movie, doesn’t give up on his obsession and characteristic aesthetics of absurd. The royal court in which cruelty is being completed by childlessness, salon rituals are steeped with perversion and so is the language that seems to be sophisticated and pornographic at the same time. In one of the most ridiculous scenes a leader of political opposition is throwing oranges at a naked fatty and reaches a very high level of satisfaction. In the other – queen is making a pig of herself when alternately eating up sweets and vomiting.  What’s important, when turning the movie into a satire on the world of politics and high class rituals, the directors still tells the real story of an important chapter in English history, which makes “The Favourite” even greater.