In Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, there sat a stench of parody. The writer/director wore his authorial calling-cards on his sleeve. Blunt dialogue, delivered in a monotone. Flat and emotionless staging. These techniques conjured an appealing, blackly comic tone. But they were so pervasive, and used so indelicately, they stood to overwhelm his films' content. There was a threat of Lanthimos beginning a descent into jokey mediocrity.
But in The Favourite, Lanthimos has managed to curb his impulses. Stylistic trademarks are still present, but de-emphasised. As a result, their incorporation into the text is more effective than ever. Comedy is less clunky and less often. Characters are permitted nuance and depth. The film displays a sensitivity towards humankind not seen since Dogtooth. The monumental strength of his actors' perfomances blooms. And there is more to this story than his recent dips into psychopathic fable.
This is partly thanks to the film's setting. Comparisons to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon are well-earned. Characters inhabit a time which imprisoned self-expression within strict and arbitrary social parameters. The absurd, Kafkaesque oppression Lanthimos delights in is, here, historically accurate. It requires no bizarre science-fiction conceits. All it needs is three female leads.
The women in this film experience a fascinating disjuncture. Their power and their powerlessness go hand-in-hand. Characters without exception seek supreme power, but depend wholly on others' help. The strengths and handicaps are myriad, and The Favourite squeezes them for every possible drop of social commentary.
The setting also allows for some stunning production design. Sandy Powell’s costumes are lavish and exquisite, while being utterly stupid. The interiors are varied and interesting. DP Robbie Ryan's wide-angle lenses cram as much of them into the frame as possible. Characters tower like monsters over knee-level cameras. And a beautiful, hideous staccato score ensures this film is an audio/visual assault. Every individual element of this film meets in a harmonious riot.
Words by Andrew O’Keefe