Every now and again a film breaks all the rules and gets away with it. By ‘film’, of course, I mean screenplay. Because a screenplay is a film shot in digital ink. Most of the good stuff and the bad stuff in films is because of good screenplays or bad screenplays. It’s just that the public don’t realise that. They know good stageplays make good plays, and that’s why they admire or abhor playwrights. That’s why Shakespeare is Shakespeare (sorry – I mean the 17th Earl of Oxford. Oops).
Every now and again a film breaks all the rules and gets away with it. By ‘film’, of course, I mean THE FAVOURITE (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, 2019). The Favourite says, ‘See these rules of film making? Bye-bye.’
Does it work? That depends on you. Your character. Your taste. I adored this film. Yorgos Lanthimos’ direction manifests the screenwriters (I mean the authors’) vision and ran with it. By candlelight. And vomit.
To say this is a Marmite film is an understatement. IMDb user review scores are by and large very high or very low. There aren’t many mid-figure scores (out of 10). And you can see why. The Favourite is on its own planet. Let’s call it Planet Favourite to be really original.
On Planet Favourite, the historically accurate story of Queen Ann’s (6 February 1665 – 1 August 1714) medical and personal demise, and her relationships with Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), and Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), ‘a woman of the bedchamber’, during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14) is explored with stunning cinematography and ruthless originality. Many interior scenes are entirely shot by candlelight – something done earlier in THE LIBERTINE (2004). Indeed, The Favourite exceeds The Libertine in its debauchery and lasciviousness. Sex is a tool of manipulation. Gentlemen rape as a matter of course. Masturbation? Golly, is it that time again? The boundary between rape and consensual sex is paper thin – an interesting observation of changing sexual mores during in history. All the main characters vomit at some point, and then Abigail treads on a rabbit. Hard.
This brings me to my only gripe: the ending. The end of this film seems to be most people’s bugbear, too. It just seems as if Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and perhaps Yorgos Lanthimos run out of ideas. The ending of this film reminds me of a Beethoven symphony. Great tunes, Ludwig; shame about the endings.
It would have been wonderful to see Queen Ann turn on Abigail when she realises that Abigail has become a new Duchess of Marlborough, namely: a hyper-Machiavellian bitch hell bent of manipulating the queen to curry favour and, well, survive. But Queen Ann is too weak to do anything by this stage, so … well go and see it.
We are left with rabbits. Lots of them.
All in all, however, I think this is a benchmark film. A triumph. A work of genius. In a rising tide of CGI based films with, shall we say, story, cliché, and originality issues - ahem – it’s a breathe of fresh air. I mean a breath of vomit and sex tinged early 18th Century fug.
Personally I can’t wait to breathe it again.