Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite is primarily about power. Britain is at war with France, but the real war lies between the two women who vie for Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) affection, her niece Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone), a fallen aristocrat who lands on the steps of the palace literally covered in mud. Everyone is out for themselves in this world of wit and insult that’s just around the corner from restoration comedy. Here sending letters to the great satirist Jonathan Swift is brought up as a means of blackmail. But sex, particularly of the lesbian variety, is the real subject (Anne collects 17 rabbits who represent all her failed pregnancies). Her consorts use it to gain her favor and the movie’s title refers to the winner in the battle, Abigail, who in her total and  utter self-regard is a character who might have stepped out of the pages of Hobbes. “You will dismiss her,” Sarah demands. “I don’t want to," Anne replies. "I like it when she puts her tongue inside me.” This is definitely the randy, often scatological pre-Victorian world that you may remember from Fielding’s Tom Jones and the chapter headings give bring back the Augustan era. Consider “I cannot marry a servant, I can enjoy one though" and  “have you come to seduce me or rape me?” The expressions “stripped and whipped” and “cunt struck” are further examples of the language popping out these characters' mouths. Bodily fluids are also a major element in the movie. The queen is suffering from gout and is always seeking salves. Sarah, like her rival, is literally and metaphysically dragged through mud and graphic displays of vomiting are not an infrequent occurrence. Interestingly despite all its disinhibition, the film is almost heartless; there isn't one really likeable character amidst all the whores and fops and that appears to be the director's intention. Yet The Favourite is refreshingly brilliant in the way it negotiates this topography of inner psychobiological urges, socio-political conflict and at times violent class strife, weaving it into a vast and incandescent tableau, painted with expletives, outré costumes (including the Queen’s embroidered braces) and objects.

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