The Best Picture Nominees: The Favourite

| February 15, 2019

The 91st Annual Academy Awards are just 9 days away and celebrate I am taking a look at all eight of the year’s selections in the Best Picture nominees.  Are they any good?  Let’s take a look:

It is a safe bet that most ordinary people are not familiar with the work of Greek film director Yorgos Lanthimos.  Those familiar with this work know that his films are not easy to warm up to.  They always feel like experiments in style, in monotonous dialogue, in abstract plots, and in some cases your patience.  How you approach his work is dependent greatly on how much ‘art for art’s sake’ you are willing to withstand.

Most Americans were first introduced to his work via his first English-language film The Lobster a bizarre dystopian romantic comedy about a world in which being single for too long can get you turned into an animal.  Well, it is exciting news to report that his acclaimed period drama The Favourite is far more accessible.  Oh, its still bizarre, but thankfully it’s not quite the blunt instrument that his other films have been.

Actually, it is quite engaging, recounting a largely fictionalized story of 18th century England’s Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), a rather minor figure in the history of the royals, who in this depiction is a woman of frail health and foul temper who counts on her companion – and lover – Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) to run the business of the country.  Sarah rules with an iron will, but that will is challenged by the arrival of a sweet-natured scullery maid named Abigail (Emma Stone) who quickly endears herself to the queen and also threatens to possibly return her majesty to good health which, of course, threatens Sarah’s hold on the throne.

The term ‘bitchy’ hangs an inch-thick over the proceedings, like Dangerous Liaisons, the participants plays power games with one another, but the story is more than it seems.  Lanthimos’ films are always about more than one thing and always ebb toward his favorite subject: domestic disconnection of people living under the same roof.  He uses his set, an effectively dingy recreation of Queen Anne’s court, not simply as a colorful background but as a playground for a chess match of power and influence (note the way that the floors look like a chess board).  This is one of the best films about England’s Royal family even if it is mostly made up.

I will admit that I do not have much affinity for films about Royalty – they’re usually just a fancy dress rendering of whose-screwing-who –  but Lanthimos makes this story accessible without laying the personal battle as audience pleasing patter.  The basic palette of the film would seem featherweight in the hands of a lesser writers but Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara piece together a story that reveals serious themes about the nature and difficulties of womanhood not only in the 18th century but nested in issues still in place in the 21st century.  This is a remarkable film in every way.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.