I resisted watching this film for a long time because I was so tired of the bury your gays trope. But it showed up in my mailbox, which is what happens when you neglect your queue long enough. For some reason, a disproportionate number of “lesbian” films, those that star at least on character considered queer, are set in some or other “bygone era”. Does Hollywood do this for fear of telling a modern queer tale, for whatever weird reason, or some idea that queers in a “more dangerous” time period adds to the drama? Who knows. That second point is incorrect, by the way. Being a lesbian has never been more dangerous than in the last 100 years. But that’s a topic for someone else to take up. Just know that the only reason I didn’t watch it for so long is my being utterly over that trope.
Enter a trailer that shows a couple of queer courtiers vying humorously for the favor of an 18th century monarch. That’s why it ended up my queue in the first place. But then I finally popped the film into my dvd player and discovered yet another misleading trailer. The surprisingly accurate story of Queen Anne, her long-time friend the Duchess of Marlborough and her cousin Abigail is told as a black comedy of two women who are, indeed, struggling to become Anne’s closest friend. Friend with benefits, at least for Anne. But I wouldn’t classify this as a lesbian movie. Sure, the two women have sex with the queen, but it’s war not love that drives them. War for favor, which means power, and only one of them can be the power behind the throne it seems.
I took a lot of notes while watching the movie because I felt bombarded with the director’s choices. For a while I was irritated with his over-the-top auteur gimmicks. The camera work was especially galling, with a large number of shot done with a fisheye lens on the camera. This is the one that shows as much as the human eye sees, only because it’s not the miracle of the human eye the effect is a noticeable bend in the image, like you’re looking at the world through a fish bowl. It’s an effective lens, when used in moderation for a specific reason, like letting a viewer see all of a small room with only one camera. Director Yorgos Lanthimos does that, making his point of whoever is in the room seem small and insignificant. He also uses it in the long hallway that gets quite a workout in the film. It was a bizarre shot, really noticeable, and for a reason I couldn’t figure except showing off. There were other camera shots that I didn’t notice were really cool because I was so often irritated at Lanthimos making such an effort to continually show off, my favorite being the shot from the floor looking up at an actress that turns into a dolly shot following her across the room. No real reason behind it, but wicked cool.
The setting and costuming firmly sets the action in a particular place and time, except for Lady Marlborough’s penchant for wearing pants. That kept trying to yank me out of the movie. Even with that strain I was impressed with how gorgeously everyone was dressed and how much of the character was revealed through what they wore. I never tired of Harley, who is played by an actor well over six feet tall, and he is in high heels and a three foot tall wig for the entire movie. Bravo for pulling that off.
If you’re expecting a straightforward period piece, think again. There’s a ballroom scene with some quaint old fashioned eighteenth century line dancing, until the main characters break out some light hip hop. Quaint wack. It was near this point in the film that my viewing companion asked the question we were both thinking. “What is that noise?” A knocking and scraping began to impose itself on the action, and it seemed to be an especially obnoxious background noise like the castle trying to eat itself, or history’s worst water leak. I finally answered, “It’s music.” She scoffed and I continued, “It’s a violin. ‘Pluck’, ‘scrape’, ‘pluck’, ‘scrape’.” We decided the director thought that upped the drama better than period music could. You’ll have to decide for yourself. One of the scenes depicted the ridiculous opulence of that period of monarchy with of a gaggle of lords pitching oranges at a naked man. It put me in mind of a scene from Rita Mae Brown’s novel Rubyfruit Jungle, only she used grapefruit.
One thing the director did beautifully several times was shoot the eyes of his actors. Once Emma Stone’s eyes were shot closely but somehow made to look endlessly deep as the character took in a shocking scene. It was gorgeous and I don’t know how he did it, but way cool. In another eye shot, the queen’s eyes reflect the numerous candles that were the only actual lighting in the room. Cameras today are miraculous things.
Finally, the denouement. The very last moment of the film. My companion and I looked at each other and shrugged. I finally figured out what it meant, but as we were watching the movie all I could do was roll my eyes at one last directorial extravagance. A little of that goes a very, very long way with me. I found it irritating, even after having somewhat gotten used to the weirdness that was The Favorite.
Nevertheless, I recommend this film. It may take some getting used to, or a lot of getting used to. And not a few of the choices the director makes may try to throw you out of your viewing experience or even make you laugh at the film instead of with it. The brilliant parts outweigh all of that, I feel. The actresses are all phenomenal, especially Olivia Coleman who is fearless in the grossest depiction of a monarch ever. It’s gorgeous, sometimes ridiculous, as I mentioned surprisingly accurate for a movie like this, and if you’re into the blackest of comedy you’ll enjoy it.
The Favourite – Official Trailer – Fox Searchlight