2018 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: Director Yorgos Lanthimos is certainly a unique and visionary filmmaker, if not often times a divisive one. I’ll admit to not been a big fan of the Greek director’s work overall, though there are general elements of his films I respect and appreciate. Lanthimos’ breakthrough came in 2009 with “Dogtooth,” a film that would go on to earn a Best Foreign Language Film nomination by the Academy. His material has evolved in recent years with critically acclaimed films “The Lobster” (2015) and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017). Prior to the North American premiere of his latest work, “The Favourite,” Telluride bestowed a tribute to one of the stars of the film, Oscar-winner Emma Stone (“La La Land,” 2016).
Prior to Stone coming on stage, Telluride put together a highlight reel from her career. The reel kicked off with a scene from “La La Land,” then moved to other great entries including “Crazy, Stupid, Love” (2011), “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012), “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (2014; for which Stone received her first Oscar nomination), “Battle of the Sexes” (2017), and then finally back to an encore clip from “La La Land” (which made this cinephile extremely pleased to see). The ingenue was then brought on stage to a thunderous ovation. Moments later, her Oscar-winning director of “La La Land,” Damien Chazelle (whose “First Man” had just played in the venue moments earlier), joined her on stage to present her with the Telluride Film Festival Medal. It was a really great moment to take in.
Stone then was feted with a Q&A surrounding her career. “This isn’t a lifetime achievement thing, right?” the actress humbly joked when speaking of her longevity, “that would be a bad omen if so!” She was such a delightful interview, so clever and adorable, hilariously open and expressing heartfelt gratitude for the people she has worked with and for the festival to honor her so. She had the audience belly laughing multiple times. It is easy to see how someone with her charisma would be so successful on the red carpet.
Following the Q&A, Lanthimos joined her on stage to present their latest effort. As “The Favourite” opens, the first thing you’ll notice are three-time Oscar-winning (and 12-time nominee) costume designer Sandy Powell‘s intricate and ornate corsets and gowns. The icon delivers some of her career-best work here.
The film takes place in early 18th-century England, with a capricious and ornery Queen Ann (Olivia Colman) on the throne. Ann’s chambermaid companion, Lady Sarah (Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz), works as the Queen’s right hand, often times over-stepping her place and using the power of seduction to influence the monarch’s decisions regarding parliament. Sarah’s reign as the titular favourite is suspended when an alluring servant, Abigail (Stone), arrives and begins to infringe upon Sarah’s domain. Sarah is a strong-willed woman with an even sharper tongue, while there is more to Abigail’s sweet and naive exterior than meets the eye. Savagery between the two then unfolds as one tries to outdo the other in favor of the queen’s love and attention.
“The Favourite” is a whimsical and perverse joy to behold. Tenacious, devious, and naughty as hell. Colman, Stone, and Weisz are all delectable and mischievous, each clearly relishing the role they are in.
The film is easily Lanthimos’ best work to date, and anyone who knows my taste in film might be surprised to learn how much I enjoyed this costume-drama (usually my least favorite genre). I couldn’t help but think about Stanley Kubrick – my all-time favorite director – while taking in multiple scenes in “The Favourite.” The handling of slow, manipulative pacing, transitions that dissolved or faded delicately into the next scene, and the use of the fisheye lens to capture ultra-wide angles was very reminiscent of the late, great director. Not to mention the brilliant, Kubrickian script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, whose perverse sense of humor and quick, scintillating dialogue froths up and boils over.
While the final act is elongated – a commonality with several of the films here at Telluride – “The Favourite” is a feast for the eyes and is expertly directed, acted, designed, and executed.