The Favourite was darkly claustrophobic. Caged rabbits, festering wounds, maniacal fashions and constricting apparatus.
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It feels stifling: Whether Queen Anne is stuffing her face with cake or Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough is looking down the barrel of a shooting gun. The fish-eye lens gave us a queasy look almost comparable to seasickness on a barge. Heading this barge, the figurehead – leaning perilously over the madness below, is Anne. Stuffed, almost and propped up by her first mates.
The relationships between women – Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Elizabeth Foster; Marie Antoinette and her closest confidantes. Something that stuck was the giving of pet names; those of a dodgerly, middle-class old married couple. “My dear Mrs Bennet” very much comes to mind in the address of “Mrs Morley” and “Mrs Freeman”. This type of roleplay was intimate – so much so that it felt safe to retreat into the world of ‘mrs and mrs and so of such a place’ to neatly package affection and sexual desire in a way that was palatable. I believe that it was this intimacy that struck me the most: There’s a scene in the bath house, where Anne and Sarah are essentially two mud larks enjoying a private flirtation. These women are knowing and its wonderful. All of the intricacies of the ménage à trois run their course – and they are compelling due to the understated delivery from Lanthimos’s direction.
The Favourite is a masterful staging of riotous dysfunction. I was very much put in mind of the domestic Jacobean tragedy play and its familiar tropes: dark rooms, dark corners, dark closets and dark deeds; snaring and entrapment.
An interesting choice was the costuming – with the courtiers appearing to be a swarming nest of black and white striped insects; vulgar, trying and all-to overbearing.
It’s an insufferable den; an intoxticating poultice smeared on to a gaping wound and then tightly bound. Locked away, there are rooms and the holders of the keys to those rooms – an element to the plot emphasised by the position of chatelaine or ‘keeper of the keys’. These keys give Sarah – and later Abigail – physical access to Anne, who, more or less, is locked away in an attic by her own volition.
Into this, comes a wildness; an eccentricity… a heavy-footedness that heightens the sense of struggle: Beribboned ducks haphazardly racing around a course, Anne haphazardly stumbling around her own palace – essentially an obstacle course for her clunky wheelchair and unwieldy stomping. There’s a perverse joy to it all, from the awkward juxtapositions that unsettle the viewer through to the galumphing movements and gritty romps through the woods.
Credit goes to the triad of Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz – inverting the masculine into the feminine and vis versa with characters such as Nicholas Hoult’s Robert Harley. What’s achieved is unorthodox and duly compelling – with much to be said on palace intrigue and a sense of going into the abyss.
From the physicality that comes from vomiting, from begging and to the dynamism from intricate complexities on the psychological level, The Favourite deserves its curtain call.