There have been a number of writers and directors in recent years who have taken fairly corny ideas for films and somehow turned them into true works of art. Chan Wook Park did this with Stoker, Lynn Ramsey with You Were Never Really Here and most recently Steve McQueen did it with Widows. McQueen took Ocean’s 8 and turned it into a masterpiece to rival Fellini’s 8 1/2 and with The Favourite Yorgos Lanthimos has done a similar thing. This brilliant new movie has been widely decorated at the film festivals (seventy one wins) and in turn is now set to dominate the awards shows (seventy one wins and counting) yet it bears a lot of comparisons to a Carry On film.
First off it has the historical setting so often used by Sid James et al but it is also very bawdy. Of course we live in a very different era to the 60s and 70s so unlike the sex references typical of the Carry On movies these one liners are not just smutty, cheap innuendos; they are direct and confident statements. There has been huge change in only in the last couple of years where many people in Western culture are now feeling more empowered and less marginalised and exploited because their sexual identity. The Favourite reflects this and while some of what goes on may surprise or even shock, none of it comes at the expense of the characters. It is rare to hear the C word on screen but even rarer not to hear it as a form of abuse.
The other way in which The Favourite differs to the rough seaside humour of the UK’s most prolific and longest running film series is that it isn’t sexist. This is effectively a ménage à trois involving three women and it absolutely isn’t done with any intention of titillating men. I couldn’t even tell you another example of that, especially not in a costume drama. These three characters; Queen Anne the last Stuart monarch and her two most trusted confidants are all strong yet vulnerable and they are not manipulated by anyone other than one another.
The story of The Favourite is that of Rachel Weis’ Sarah Churchill the Duchess of Marlborough and Emma Stone’s Abigail Hill, her cousin, and their extreme efforts to become the main power player in the court of Olivia Colman’s Anne. All three actors are superb and each’s narrative encompasses tragedy and humour. These are three of the best film performers working today and they may have never been better. All of them have BAFTAs and Golden Globes to their names and while Colman doesn’t have an Oscar yet expect that to change in February. This is definitely Colman’s film. The way she swings from prompting hearty cackles to depicting heartbreaking catastrophe is just magnificent. If this is a Carry On film then it’s Carry On Colman.
The more I think about this superb movie the more I admire it. I’ve just this last week posted my films of 2018 but with the first going on the list for 2019, come next December The Favourite might just turn out to be very apposite title indeed.