A DE­LI­CIOUS, VI­CIOUS ACT­ING FEAST IN ‘THE FAVOURITE’

Sun.Star Cebu Weekend - - Film - Re­view: Jake Coyle AP Film Writer

Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos’ “The Favourite,” a wicked blast of nasty fun, glee­fully dis­penses with the usual deco­rum of the pe­riod drama to free its pow­er­house trio of ac­tresses — Olivia Col­man, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz — in a de­li­ciously per­formed romp through the wigs and corsets of 18th cen­tury Bri­tish aris­toc­racy. That the act­ing — and that in­cludes the spec­tac­u­lar sup­port­ing player Ni­co­las Hoult, too, as Tory leader Robert Har­ley — should be such a feast in Lan­thi­mos’ lat­est is a sur­prise. His ear­lier films (“The Lob­ster,” ‘’The Killing of a Sa­cred Deer,” ‘’Dog­tooth”) were in­ten­tion­ally per­formed in a flat, emo­tion­less man­ner that sel­dom rose above an awk­ward mono­tone. But the brisker “The Favourite” is, to a de­gree, a de­par­ture for Lan­thi­mos who this time is work­ing from a script by Deb­o­rah Davis and Tony McNa­mara in­stead of his usual col­lab­o­ra­tor, Efthimis Filip­pou. “The Favourite” is no less vi­cious or piti­less than their pre­vi­ous films, nor does Lan­thi­mos (sur­prise, sur­prise) find the cus­toms of early 1700s English roy­als any less grotesque than the con­tem­po­rary norms he’s so sav­agely sat­i­rized be­fore. Yet “The Favourite,” a kind of “All About Eve” trans­lated into a tri­an­gu­lar power strug­gle in Queen Anne’s court, is in­deed a riot, al­beit

a frigid and dis­qui­et­ing one. And it’s not just be­cause Lan­thi­mos fa­vors anachro­nism over his­tor­i­cal ac­cu­racy. (Both mod­ern-day slang and dance moves make cameos.) It’s the plea­sure of see­ing three of the finest ac­tresses weave be­tween one an­other in ever more ab­surd acts of se­duc­tion and be­trayal. In a rick­ety and crowded car­riage, we ar­rive in Queen Anne’s court with Abi­gail (Stone), a dis­tant rel­a­tive of the queen who, hav­ing been lost by her fa­ther in a game of cards, has slipped out of the no­bil­ity. She’s des­per­ate to re­store her stand­ing with a po­si­tion in the royal house­hold, and af­ter ini­tially be­ing sent to scrub floors, the Duchess of Marl­bor­ough, Sarah Churchill (Weisz), takes her on a cham­ber­maid. Our glimpses of Abi­gail’s so-called “di­min­ished cir­cum­stances” (in­clud­ing more than one face-first pushes into the mud) are vivid enough to earn our sym­pa­thies and war­rant her in­creas­ingly cold-blooded tac­tics for el­e­va­tion. In one of many such trans­ac­tional ex­changes, Abi­gail al­lows a more high-born man into her cham­ber at night and asks if he’s there to rape her or se­duce her. “I’m a gen­tle­man,” he de­fen­sively protests. “Rape then,” she mat­ter-of-factly replies. Through cun­ning, black­mail and flat­tery, Abi­gail soon has the ear of Queen Anne (Col­man), not to men­tion her bed, a new­found sta­tus at odds with the queen’s pre­vi­ous con­fi­dante and lover, Sarah. Weisz’s duchess is us­ing her po­si­tion with the queen to ex­tend the war with France, and her meth­ods of ma­nip­u­la­tion are far more ag­gres­sively con­trol­ling. But they are also more straight­for­ward than Abi­gail’s hol­low ap­pease­ments. In one scene, Sarah de­ters Anne from a meeting with the prime minister by hold­ing up a mir­ror to her make-up-caked face: “You look like a badger.” As Abi­gail emerges as a ri­val, Sarah, icy and for­mi­da­ble, doesn’t shy away from the fight. “I have a thing for the weak,” she says. Through wide-an­gled and fish-eye lenses Lan­thi­mos tracks the three-sided drama, pulling it to­ward its most pri­mal ex­pres­sions. These char­ac­ters may live in lav­ish op­u­lence but be­neath their pow­dered faces they are prim­i­tive and power hun­gry. So Lan­thi­mos lingers on a sur­real slow-mo­tion duck race down a palace hall and the agony of Anne’s gout, scored with an eerie sin­gle piano note and a scratchy vi­o­lin. Much of “The Favourite” is caus­ti­cally clever but it’s Col­man who el­e­vates it to some­thing mag­nif­i­cent. Her Anne is a glo­ri­ous and sad ruin of a queen, a woman wrecked by time and heartache. (She keeps 18 bun­nies, one for each child that didn’t live.) Her in­ter­est in keep­ing up with her royal du­ties has com­i­cally dis­in­te­grated. In her flow­ing gowns, she’s like a pud­dle. Weepy and lonely, she’s torn be­tween her suit­ors. With its spurts of vi­o­lence, splashes of blood and cyn­i­cal sex­ual en­coun­ters, “The Favourite” is, oddly enough, about love. In their op­po­site ways, Sarah and Abi­gail of­fer a melan­choly di­chotomy: Love is ei­ther flat­tery and false, or hon­est and abu­sive. In other words, the only true love is telling some­one they look like a badger.

Im­ages: Fox Search­light Films via AP

Emma Stone (left) and Rachel Weisz in a scene from the film “The Favourite.”

Rachel Weisz and Olivia Cole­man (right).

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