Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
If The Favourite depicts an episode from England’s history of which you have never heard, do not be surprised. It’s so scandalous and absurd that a county could be excused for wanting to sweep it under the carpet and forget all about it.
Consider: A ridiculously incompetent and self-absorbed figurehead leads an administration whose puppet strings are manipulated by an ambitious adviser who benefits financially from decisions of state. Unnecessary drama consistently ensues as a result of infighting between those competing for the figurehead’s graces, attention, and affection. On top of all the political intrigue, those responsible for “governing” this mess are endlessly consumed with all manner of gratuitous, indulgent pursuits at the expense of the tax-paying public.
In the case of the movie at hand, the time is 1708 and the figurehead leader is Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman); the puppeteer is Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz); and the primary competition for influence with the Queen is Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s young cousin. If the names of these three actresses sound familiar this week, it’s because they’ve all been Oscar-nominated for their performances here.
On one hand, I have a hard time recommending a film that parades such human decadence before us, and presents it not as a documentary horror show but as a witty, urbane entertainment. We really ought to be aghast at this human condition, not amused by it.
But the European sensibility which Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos brings to this affair lends a certain gravitas to the subject matter; and, in a large part, this is due to his choices with pacing and the soundtrack. His method says, No, don’t rush by this. Stop and notice what you I am showing you here. Don’t you see how this relates to your world today? It’s both scary and exhilarating. It’s revolting and revolutionary, in the best sense of the word. We don’t deserve to be governed by trash such as these people; or, perhaps, we do.
As compared to other touchstone period pieces of this ilk, The Favourite is every bit as good as Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons, and Scott’s The Duellists–heady company. There may be nothing new under the sun, and it all may be terribly depressing; but a tonic such as The Favourite can at least remind us that the world is not going to hell in a handbasket… as it’s been there all along. And we bought a ticket.
The main strength of this film, however, is how consistent surprising it is. Rare is the film whose trailer stirs your interest without giving away either its plot or its best moments.
Is this a film that will be to everyone’s taste? No. In fact, its sensibility may even prompt you to walk out. A pivotal scene about 30 minutes in, in which Sarah provokes Anne’s jealously, is so very unexpected and strange. At that point, you’re likely to decide that you’ll either agree with me, or wonder whether I’m off my rocker.
Such is art.
And we are all off our rockers.
The Favourite is playing now at the Century Federal Way and Regal Auburn Stadium 17.