The Favourite: Duck Racing, Voguing and Sapphism in the Court of Queen Anne.
It’s a Tuesday night at a cinema in Peckham, we’re sat in Screen 4. The atmosphere feels giddy with anticipation for what we’re about to see. Someone I’m with ponders out loud ‘I wonder if I’ve matched with anyone here on Tinder?’ The answer? Probably. ‘Lesbians assemble!’ cries out another as the five of us take our seats. It’s really like something out of The L Word. The point is, there’s an overtly Sapphic aura in this theatre tonight… and we’ve brought wine.
The Favourite, Film Poster, 2018 (Image: IMDb)
Obviously, we’re here to see The Favourite – Yorgos Lanthimos’ hotly anticipated salacious tragicomedy set in the eighteenth century. It also happens to be the perfect remedy to the collective post New Year’s Eve hangover still very much felt by everyone in the room.
The film explores the lust, the ambition, and above all else, the ever-shifting power in Queen Anne’s court. Things are shaken up in the palace when the monarch’s adviser and clandestine lover Lady Sarah’s (Rachel Weisz) younger cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives looking for work. At first doe-eyed and sensitive, she soon learns that the Queen’s covetable attention will not come to the passive and adopts a steely, unrelenting demeanour. Abigail attempts to delicately dismantle the hierarchical infrastructure surrounding Lady Sarah and the establishment, so that she may win the Queen’s favour, all whilst seducing her in the process.
The Favourite presents us with a platter of greed, lust and envy amid a sumptuous palace, a dish complete only with a hearty helping of lesbian sex, (though, sadly, mostly off-screen.) And although The Favourite fits the popular categories of being both a period film and a ‘lesbian’ film, we don’t see the usual pathos derived from the patriarchal, homophobic backdrops seen in films like Carol or The Handmaiden. Instead, Anne, Sarah and Abigail create their own discomfort. There is a distinct lack of male authority in this film, and oh God is it refreshing.
As the follow up from Lanthimos’ superbly amoral The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Favourite acts as a gorgeous period piece of farcical respite from his previous work. That is not to say that The Favourite is not uncomfortable viewing, we are treated to scenes of vomit, bloodshed and a bizarre dance scene in which two characters vogue to a Bach concerto. In one scene, Queen Anne gorges on cake in a frenzied state of despair only to eventually throw up and continue eating with sicky-cakey residue still clinging to her nest-like hair. Lanthimos crafts his films with a peculiar modernist absurdity, evident as much in his early Greek language films, Kinetta, Alps and Dogtooth as in his more accessible recent English-language productions. It is interesting to see his newest film as a favourite (no pun intended) for the Oscars next month considering how remote his work from a decade ago felt, compared to where he is now.
Throughout the duration of the film I felt swaddled up in the Sapphic excess of the eighteenth-century court, the only distraction being the very tall straight couple sat in front of us, (obviously they didn’t go down well with my group). Compellingly visually arresting from start to end, however, The Favourite’s moody colour palette fits the stifling nature of the palace perfectly and Lanthimos’ use of fisheye lenses gives the audience an uncomfortable sense of our inherent voyeurism whilst watching the exploits of the three women. Hilarious in parts, the script is as razor sharp as any Lanthimos film, with my favourite line being “All I know is, your carriage awaits and my maid is on her way up with something called a pineapple.” Hysterical even when received from Emma Stone’s slightly erroneous English accent which is reminiscent of Lindsay Lohan’s in The Parent Trap, a film that couldn’t be further from this Barry Lyndon style epic.
Olivia Colman takes the royal role and plays it heart-wrenchingly and revoltingly in equal parts; she’s overweight, depressed, and riddled with gout, but still remains the prize the two women fight over.
The film is of course based upon the real monarch and Queen Anne’s life was tainted with grief, she lost all 17 of her children and was riddled with disease by the time she was 40. Through its harrowing but sympathetic portrayal of the Queen, The Favourite ultimately takes the strange tragedies of her life and, with superb performances recasts her into the imaginations of a generation unlikely to be familiar with her non-conventional reign. I think this shows that there is some beauty amid the chaos and the vomit of The Favourite (and no I’m not just talking about Rachel Weisz’s face.)