The latest film from Greek director and writer Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite, was not only my most anticipated film of HIFF this year, but also one of, if not the, most anticipated film of the year for myself. And there was a lot to be excited about. Lanthimos has yet to tackle a period piece before now, and this is his first directorial feature that he has not also had writing credit on. The cast was stellar, including such heavy-hitters and recent award-winners like Emma Stone, Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Nicholas Hoult. I expected plenty of harpsichord stingers, foppish tones of voice, and jaw-dropping one-liners. What I got was just that, and much, much, more.
If I had no prior knowledge as to Lanthimos’ lack of input in the writing of this film, I would have absolutely thought that he had sole writing credit for this new genre classic in absurdist thriller. This speaks to the power of his direction, which is top-notch here. Each performance, frame, and musical sting is crafted specifically to create the unique tone that the Greek auteur is known for. The comedy is perhaps more plentiful here than his other films, but it is welcome, and in fact helps create tension between our two leads.
Although it can be argued that Collman as an aging Queen Anne is not a leading performance in the film, she is absolutely the stand-out, stealing most of the scenes she was in with one arm tied behind her back, metaphorically-speaking. When she is in a scene, she commands undivided attention with her unpredictable anger fits and ridiculous bouts of sobbing. Her otherwise-quiet madness is masterful, and helps to create one of the most distinct character arcs of the year. Both of the leads in Stone and Weisz also give transformative performances. Immediately it is apparent to the audience that these three women are their characters. Their tone, motivation, and sexual promiscuity are all well-known, but this is something that comes with the absurdist territory of Lanthimos’ art films. Although this film makes much less usage of metaphor and symbolism than his other works, there is still so much of this film that drives me to think about it, and perhaps even pay to see it again when it is released next week. I cannot think of a better way to spend Thanksgiving than to worship at the altar of Yorgos.