The start of the year is, in Britain at least, Oscar season which means that, dependent on the quality of a year’s quality movies, January can set you up nicely for the year or leave a bad taste in your film consuming mouth. Last year I started my cinema going with an All the Money in the World / Brad’s Status double bill, the awfulness of which I never fully recovered from. 2017 was a mixed bag of mixed bags: Manchester by the Sea, La La Land, Silence, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage but the year redeemed itself magnificently in February with the arrival of Moonlight.
2019 started with The Favourite and, I’m very pleased to report, it is a humdinger. If it isn’t in my top ten films of the year then we will have had a very nice year at the cinema indeed.
What is it? A historical drama with little regard for history, I suppose, though its playing loosely with the known facts allows it to create characters, and relationships between them, that feel more real than most films dealing with royalty. We are spared the retreading through familiar stories from our childhood and instead get intrigue and a good portion of humour delivered by Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, all of whom could justifiably get nods at the Oscars (though Coleman’s performance will, understandably, probably get the most attention).
The Favourite does several impossible things. It manages to be very funny without ever seeming to become a comedy (which may be very useful during the awards season). Its shots are incredibly composed but it never feels stilted. Strangest of all, it is a film divided into chapters that doesn’t make you want to stab something. Yorgos Lanthimos has perfectly balanced the highbrow and the lowbrow, creating a film that will play well to an art-house or a mainstream audience. There is literally something for everyone. Don’t normally like historical dramas but you do like duck racing? They’ve got it covered. Not interested in the Machiavellian plotting of the members of a royal court but you do like watching naked men being pelted with fruit? Step on up. This might be the film for you.
I have, as I always will, tried to avoid talking about the plot. But when a film is as beautifully formed as The Favourite, that does leave very little else to say except, “Go see it.”
So… you know… go see it.