“The favorite” is the typical case of a film that manages to internationalize and popularize the career of a cult director and a small audience. The trajectory of the Athenian Yorgos Lanthimos begins with the comedy “My best friend” (2001). But his career gains momentum with “Canino” (2009), the story of a mad family, where children are forbidden to know the world outside the parents’ house.
Well, “The favorite” is also the story of another confinement, that of the most powerful woman in England. It is about Ana Estuardo (Olivia Colman), who in the eighteenth century unified in one kingdom -the Great Britain- England and Scotland. The screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara focuses on the queen’s lesbian relationship with her counselor, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), and with the upstart maid turned courtesan Abigail Masham (Emma Stone).
It is true that period films are usually pretexts to show bright and not very substantial aspects (costumes, decoration). However, the director of “Langosta” (2015) and “The sacrifice of the sacred deer” (2017) knows how to take advantage of historical material to renew it and extend the spectrum of its ‘leitmotiv’: the demystification of the civilizing order.
Like Luis Buñuel in “El ángel exterminador” (1962), Lanthimos unmasks the sexual, fetishistic and sadistic substratum of the elites, those owners of power. Hence the unglamorous way of exhibiting powders and wigs that, far from beautifying, make lords and ladies more grotesque. Hence the abundance of animals as favorite simile, The Favorite full movie including a spectacular race of ducks in the hall of the palace of the queen.
In “La favorita”, intrigues and secret contubernios -elements that tend to shape films related to European monarchies- become, with the talent of Colman, Weisz and Stone, in a crossfire full of hysteria, madness and pathos. Something similar to the theater of cruelty, a wild satire of fierce black humor where the gardens are full of mud and monarchical kitchens resemble swineherds Trailer of Wonder Park, the ambitious animation co-production.
Perhaps some reference that gives an idea of the tone of the film can be found in the “Amadeus” (1984) by Milos Forman, Venom Blu-Ray with his punk Mozart full of maniacal laughter. However, the magnificent art of Forman was still operatic, more dramatic and with space for tenderness or romantic rooted lyricism. Lanthimos, in that sense, is a strict naturalist, a relentless comedian: he takes human relations to his predatory animal substrate, which leads to a cannibal and self-destructive spiral.
To achieve this black pit that engulfs everything, the frame is the gigantic palatial prison. And the engine that crushes everything, the competition between the Duchess of Marlborough and the servant Masham. The goal: to have control over the sick mind and body of the queen. Missing style: a magnificent use of the fisheye lens or super wide angle, thanks to which distorts, giving a nightmarish curvature, the space we see.
The images of Lanthimos become as aberrant as that queen whose suffering – she had 17 aborted children or died at birth – is as deep as her anger. There is something very contemporary in this cinema about a wild competition to survive. But also a metaphysics that conspires against any idealization or preciosity. And if the Duchess of Marlborough still claimed for something more than pure sadism for her queen, it can be said that it is always the predatory instinct that ends up winning. “The favorite” is a captivating, provocative, daring and very complex film.