Rather like last year’s surprise best picture nominee Phantom Thread, The Favourite presents us with familiar prestige, an ornate, Oscar-friendly chocolate box, with fillings one might think easy to predict. On the surface, it’s a tale of corseted conflict with a high-wattage cast, including previous Oscar winners Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, yet, as with Paul Thomas Anderson’s deceptively devilish Daniel Day-Lewis drama, it boasts an unlikely puppet master.
In his third English-language feature, Greek film-maker Yorgos Lanthimos has seamlessly transported his pitch-black wit back to early 18th-century England to tell a story about a monarch that plays out with more similarities to Peter Greenaway than Merchant Ivory. There’s enough pettiness, cruelty, bawdiness and perversity to turn it into whatever the opposite of Academy catnip is, making its 10 nominations seem like a win already. The all-white cast and period setting might not present it as a particularly radical choice, but it remains an undeniably rebellious provocation and its inclusion during awards season has been a refreshing middle finger directed towards some of its stuffier competition.
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As someone who has endured far more than his fair share of Oscar bait, films created almost solely with awards in mind, it’s a rare treat to see a contender as gloriously uncensored and unbridled as The Favourite: not only in its vicious vulgarity, but also in its brutal honesty about relationships. As in Lanthimos’s dystopian dating satire The Lobster and in the aforementioned Phantom Thread, there’s an unusual willingness to smash open preconceived notions of what love means, focusing instead on the grisly truth. Olivia Colman’s tragicomic, rabbit-loving, incompetent Queen Anne is torn between two schemers and, more specifically, between the love that she wants and the love that she needs; a clear-eyed distinction not many of us can always make. She’s plagued by tragedy,...
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