Period goes punk
Olivia Colman on bringing anarchy to the monarchy in The Favourite
“IT GETS QUITE bonkers,” says Olivia Colman. “[At one point] there’s a naked bloke who gets pelted with a shitload of pomegranates.” The Favourite, it seems, isn’t your average period picture. “I love it. I don’t want to see costume drama unless Yorgos Lanthimos has done it. You can almost smell what it smelt like: the sweat, the putting the wee around everybody’s skirts. It’s sumptuous but stinky.”
Set in 18th century England during a war with France, The Favourite sees Colman play Queen Anne, beset by clinical obesity and characterised by a huge temper, with the real governing left to her lover Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). Their relationship is thrown into crisis by the arrival of ambitious new servant Abigail (Emma Stone), who makes a play for Anne’s affections. As you would expect from the Greek filmmaker behind The Lobster and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, the courtly subterfuge and ménage à trois is imbued with all colours of strange.
“It is a bit like if Bowie did costume drama,” Colman says. “These very rich and powerful people seem to have chunks of their day with nothing to do, so they do these hilarious things trying to entertain themselves. Yorgos has a ball with that and makes it as ludicrous as possible.”
Queen Anne also takes pleasure in racing lobsters and Indian Runner ducks. “I think the lead duck was called Jessica,” she laughs. “She loved a cuddle but when you put her down, she was quite quick.”
Lanthimos’ sense of play started with rehearsals. “We had to play hopscotch while saying the lines,” says Colman. “Not thinking about it so much, it became more natural.”
That wasn’t the only natural element. Taking a leaf out of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon playbook, The Favourite’s interiors are lit entirely by candlelight. “There was a man with candles on a trolley with a plastic cover so they didn’t blow out. It was really inventive.”
Colman has Lanthimos form, having played the Hotel Manager in 2015’s The Lobster. He has zero time for discussing character motivations but, says Colman, the director’s tough, challenging creative spirit doesn’t necessarily match the man.
“I love it when somebody thinks differently,” she says. “He’s such a happy, lovely, encouraging man, which you maybe wouldn’t expect if you just watched the films.” Never judge a filmmaker by their work. Or a queen by her duck racing.
THE FAVOURITE IS IN CINEMAS FROM 1 JANUARY
Clockwise from left: Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) with lover Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz); Director Yorgos Lanthimos on set with Emma Stone (servant Abigail Masham); Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult, centre) is looking pretty.
Empire spoke to Olivia Colman at home on 10 August, taking a break from shooting The Crown Season 3.