'The Favorite' Review: Machining power in a triangle of Kinky Palace

adminNovember 22, 2018




In January 1711, Queen Anne, the last of Stuart's monarchs to occupy the British throne, appointed a former waitress named Abigail Hill to take charge of the Private Purse, thus reversing the fate of Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, who had previously been among the queen's most trusted advisers.

That morsel of historical arcana is the basis of "The Favorite", a wildly cynical and funny comedy of royal manners directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.

For Shakespeare and the classical Greek dramatists, the facts of the real and imaginary rulers, the affairs of state and of the flesh, which figure prominently here, were most often tragedy. Lanthimos, a Greek director who has been based in London for the past few years, does not make a real distinction between pathos and joy. His first English language film, "The Lobster," was both frightening and hilarious, a cruel dystopian allegory of discipline and desire. The next, "The murder of a sacred deer," was for the most part simply dreadful. "The Favorite", with a profane and erudite script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, is a farce with teeth, a costume drama with strong political instincts and an aggressive sense of the absurd.

Anne's court is populated by vain creatures with curly wigs to the sky and elaborately painted faces. His hobbies include vicious sex gossip, indoor duck racing and throwing rotten fruit at naked people. That explains the men, who also hold most of the power. Even with Anne (Olivia Colman) as head of state, patriarchy rules the kingdom, and women interested in power, autonomy or survival must navigate the hostile territory of male domination.

This does not mean that women are passive or innocent victims. On the contrary. The boisterous and boisterous plot of "The Favorite" is driven by machining, double crossing and manipulation among its three main female characters. Anne, plagued by gout, pain and self-pity, works like the hypotenuse of a discreet erotic and political triangle, whose other legs are Abigail (Emma Stone) and Sarah (Rachel Weisz). Sarah, who knows the queen since they were children, is her lover and adviser in governmental affairs. An ally of the parliamentary leader (James Smith) and the wife of a major military commander (Mark Gatiss), she presses for war with France and heavy taxes on the landlords.

Abigail, a cousin of Sarah, arrives at the palace covered in mud and full of ambition, and what follows can be described partially as a baroque and curly variation on the themes of "All about Eve". Abigail plays the role of open eyes. ingénue, a masquerade that conceals formidable skills in psychological and physical combat. She cultivates a loyalty to the head of the opposition (Nicholas Hoult), a link based on common interest and mutual displeasure. Abigail fights dirty because a hard education has taught her that no fight is fair. Sarah accepts her as a protégé and is too slow to recognize her as a rival.

Her competition for Anne's affection is exciting and disconcerting to witness, a full-bodied chess game with no rules and ambiguous rules. The details of the time (the work of production designer Fiona Crombie and costume designer Sandy Powell, among others) provide more than decoration. They transport the viewer to a world where conventional distinctions, between private feeling and public display, between honesty and cunning, between life and theater, do not apply.

Everyone plays with the unstable currencies of status and influence. Because much depends on pomp and performance, dignity and self-control, humiliation is a pervasive danger and a popular sport. The most abject figure in this universe is the queen herself, whose illnesses, eccentricities and neuroses make her seem impotent and pathetic, easy prey for opportunists like Abigail and Sarah, who push their wheelchair and attend to their moods.

But it is also true that the queen is the only person in England who can, or has the right to, sincerity. Only she can say what she says and get what she wants. Weisz and Stone are brilliantly witty and agile, but Colman's performance is sublime. She is absolutely committed to the ridiculousness of Anne, and also to the contradictory facets of her humanity. The queen is imprisoned by pain, by tradition, by her own non-cooperative body. She is also a free spirit.

Lanthimos, with his camera slipping through golden corridors and stone staircases, with exquisitely patterned lights and shadows, with strange lenses and surprising angles, choreographed an elaborate parade of decorum and violence, claustrophobia and liberation. The law of the kingdom is mutability, represented by the many names by which its sovereign and her subjects are called. Sarah is Lady Marlborough, and so is Mrs. Freeman. The queen is Mrs. Morley. Abigail plans to marry a handsome fool (Joe Alwyn), hoping to acquire a title of her own. No identity or value is fixed. Alliances change like the weather. The fortunes go up and down. Beauty transmutes into ugliness and vice versa. Love is a synonym of domination, or perhaps of submission.

The best, and also the most worrying, of "The Favorite" is its rigorously grim assessment of human motivations and behaviors. The palace is a petri dish full of familiar pathogens of selfishness, cruelty and greed. A sentimental soul may wish to glimpse something else, but at the same time it is difficult to say that something is missing in this painting, which is also a devastating, flattering and strangely faithful mirror.



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