British political and societal dramas are often ripe with stoic, regal performances perfect for awards season acclaim.
Films like the Best Picture winning “The King’s Speech” or Gary Oldman’s Oscar-winning turn in last year’s “Darkest Hour” are prime examples of major contenders coming from across the pond.
This year provides moviegoers with yet another intricate examination of the British monarchy, but certainly unlike anything viewers have ever seen before.
“Downton Abbey,” director Yorgos Lanthimos’ darkly comic latest film is not.
Filled with fish-eyed lens shots, sexual debauchery and lords throwing rotting fruit at nude servants, “The Favourite” is certainly the unlikeliest of prestige Oscar contenders, but perhaps one of the very best as well.
Set during the early 18th century, “The Favourite” follows an aging, lonely Queen Anne coaxed into war with the French by her longtime friend and confidante, Lady Sarah.
When Sarah’s cousin Abigail arrives to serve the Queen, a rivalry ensues that would change the course of British history.
The film excels primarily thanks to a trio of award-worthy performances, led by a manic, simple yet complex turn by Olivia Colman as Queen Anne. Her performance is stricken with loss and pain, hysterical with the torment of abandonment and yet Colman finds moments of clarity that remind audiences of Anne’s true power.
Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz brings a scheming, yet firm handed approach to Sarah, keeping her wits while chaos ensues all around her to maintain power by proxy over England.
Meanwhile, Oscar winner Emma Stone turns on the charms for Abigail in an effort that is part ingénue, part survivalist and part weasel.
Individually, the performances are top notch, but it is in concert with one another that the trio of “The Favourite” truly excels as the actresses ebb and flow off each other flawlessly.
The wit of “The Favourite” somewhat undercuts just how expertly Lanthimos balances Anne, Abigail and Sarah on a teetering scale of power, pulling these three dynamic characters up and down with subtlety and ease.
The screenplay from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara provides a spectacular backdrop for the three talented actresses, along with the surprisingly effective Nicholas Hoult as opposition leader Harley, to give the year’s best ensemble performance.
Lanthimos mirrors the beautiful absurdity of the film’s script with a wonderfully obscure shooting style that takes advantage of the vaulted, high ceilings of the castle setting and frames each of its characters in unique, off-kilter angles.
While the super wide angle shots of the fish eye lens are the most outlandish, each and every shot in “The Favourite” is nuanced to either bolster or tamper a character’s place in power as the intricate game Sarah and Abigail weave around Anne changes scene to scene.
As such, “The Favourite” could prove overwhelming to some on an initial viewing, though subsequent screenings should help viewers find understanding in Lanthimos’ absurdist world.
A lock for a Best Picture nod, “The Favourite” could easily garner as many as 9-10 Academy Award nominations next month with Colman as Best Actress, costume design and production design all being virtual locks as well.
One or both of Stone and Weisz are likely to appear in the Best Supporting Actress category with Lanthimos a strong best for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
Certainly the year’s most bombastic, perversely funny feature, “The Favourite” may be for more open-minded audiences, but it’s such a charmingly quirky film.
One of 2018’s top five movies, “The Favourite” will stay in the minds of moviegoers long after the credits roll.