The Favourite – Film Review

Yorgos Lanthimos is a unique film-maker, with a unique style that is sometimes tricky to get on with. His characters usually have a strange, disconnected dialogue, and they are alienated from any kind of real world, which means that they all seem like the same person. The experience is one of mild amusement, that is boosted by Yorgos’ fantastic eye for detail, and composition, however his films always feel as though they are missing something. I think he has discovered that something with The Favourite.

Set in early 18th century England, a weak Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) lays in bed, whilst members of parliament come and go to advise her on the war against France. Sometimes when they visit, she is too frail to see them, so her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) governs in her place. Sarah has to deal with the bickering between the Prime Minister Godolphin (James Smith) and leader of the opposition Harley (Nicholas Hoult). Quickly we see Sarah’s resilience and strength against them, with Weisz fierce biting tone. During these discussions on which tax to raise so that they can afford to keep fighting against the French, a new servant arrives – a young woman who has ‘fallen from grace’ after her father went mad, and burnt down their manor with his family still in it. Abigail (Emma Stone) rises through the ranks, and soon is promoted form servant to Sarah’s maid, where she can begin to closely interact with the Queen. They build a relationship that is different to the one Anne has with Sarah, and so jealously, and scheming starts to strife between the three of them.

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The triangle is where the film is, and where Yorgos’ comes alive as a film-maker. He has loosened his grip on his style to allow the characters and actors to breathe. Each of them feels alive with their own strengths, weakness, desires and needs. Lady Sarah is controlling, and sharp – she understands the needs of the country, whilst worrying about her own husband (Mark Gatiss) going to war. Her relationship with Anne is loving, and their history is clear, but Sarah is often cruel to the Queen, being the only one not scared to put her down. Anne doesn’t need putting down any further, as she has an eating disorder, stuffing her face when she’s sad, and she’s in constant pain thanks to a serious gout infection. She relies on Sarah, but gets upset when Sarah is mean to her, consequently Abigail is a breath of fresh air for the Queen, and tells her exactly what she wants to hear, that she is still beautiful and respected. Stone’s character is someone who has had to learn how to survive, and there is an unmatched tenacious, persistent attitude to her. The way the three actors play them is superb, and their chemistries are strong but different. Colman and Stone coming together is about excitement, and fun, where Weisz coming together with Anne is about affection, and honesty. Yorgos frames them without showing off, and allows them to move, and act. He lets them act! Colman’s performance at first is almost a Sophie from Peep Show level of absolute disgust, then we learn that there is a deep sadness to her, and a particular scene with her and Stone in the middle of the film is totally heartbreaking. Weisz is tougher, and scarier, especially late on where her physical appearance changes, and her aggressiveness is personified. The standout is Stone, because she goes through so many different levels of emotion, and it’s not fully transparent how much of her is simple manipulation to get what she wants. She is transfixing when she is on the screen.

All of that lovely character stuff aside, the film is of course very funny. Yorgos has never had any trouble with humour, his 2015 film The Lobster wins you over because of the strange laughs. In this film, the script has more heart to it, and thus the humour is more joyous, and quotable. There is a scene where young suitor Masham (Joe Alwyn) is chasing Abigail around a woods, that is genuinely hilarious, but there are little lines throughout that will get you. A lot of this comes from the male characters in the film, because they are quite farcical. Nicholas Hoult is terrific as a golden scumbag, James Smith as the Prime Minister who is obsessed with his racing duck is amazing, if you are a fan of his portrayal of Glenn Cullen in the BBC comedy The Thick of It (his character in the film is great any way), and any Joe Alwyn – Emma Stone interaction was loads of fun.

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The film in the end becomes less of a silly period comedy, and more compelling as view of where the characters are situated, sort of in the air of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975) . There is a certain change in the scenery, and set up of power around the Queen by the final scene, and the gear down to this in the penultimate moments is completely engrossing. Even in the very last shot, where Yorgos is suddenly portraying a different message to the one pushed during the majority of the film, it is still very moving. The balance of comedy and drama is the line to sell when describing the success of the film, and you can’t argue with that. This is an accomplished piece of work, that will reap the rewards of time and repeat viewings.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes! The film is split into sections, or chapters and it is worth going to see just for the one titled ‘What an outfit!’

My Mid-Year Top 10 Films (2017)

Listing is something that I have always enjoyed, and my Top 10 films of the year ones have been a constant over my 400 different film blogs.  What’s interesting about them is how they change and how much I’m disgusted by them when I look back.  Honestly I look back at my 2016 list and feel sick at myself for liking certain films as much as I did.  So, in attempt to sort of breakdown the whole year, I’m doing one now at the half way point. Then, at the end of the year I can see how many in this list didn’t make the final cut.  As always with these things, I haven’t seen all the films that have come out in the UK this year, so when I do eventually get round to seeing them they may make the final list at the end of the year.

What I’ve also done for the this is bring back an old scoring system I’ve used in the past. Ratings of films has fascinated recently so I thought it’d be interesting to see where these film ranks in my own particular system, seen as they’re my favourite films of the year. It’s pretty basic really, where I split the film into four categories: Presentation (effectively mise-en-scene & cinematography), Performances, Narrative, and effect.  The first three being marked out of three, and the last 1, though it never gets that full 1 point unless I have seen the film more than once.  It’s a methodical way of looking at films, but it gives a final score out of 10 which I think is a simple way of gauging how good the film is without revealing how much I enjoyed it personally.

On with the list…

 

10.  La La Land (January)

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The beauty of this film is obvious, yet I don’t think it is as special as perhaps it’s marked down to be.  In fact I think that opening scene everyone talks about is really dull. Of course director Damien Chazelles artful presence is clear but I found that he linked music and film tighter in his previous film Whiplash.  The plot is rocky at times and I found Gosling and Stone just okay in the leads.  Despite all of this it makes it into my top 10 because of the simple pleasures of it.  It is a really happy film to watch and I can universally recommend it.  There are some magical moments that will capture the imagination of anyone, and in the end it’s a positive for Hollywood cinema.

Presentation: 3/3

Performances: 2/3

Narrative: 1.5/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 7/10

 

9. Okja (June)

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This is an odd one because I’m not entirely sure how much I enjoyed the film.  Joon-ho Bong is a director that I admire, and so I was looking forward to it.  I didn’t get to see it in the cinema and had to make do with the Netflix version, though I still found it a very attractive.  It’s shot well, like all of his previous films, and has a lighter edge to some of the look of the framing.  Tonally it has some zanier moments as well, which I welcomed but overall ended on a pit of the stomach lull with some of the subject matter. This gave the film meaning, and it was never too much in your face.  The performances were each individually different and the actors brought a lot of life to the story.  Actaully looking back at the film I can say that I firmly did enjoy it.

Presentation: 2.5/3

Performances: 3/3

Narrative: 2.5/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once0

Final Score: 8.5/10

 

8.  John Wick: Chapter 2 (February)

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The first John Wick was a real fun movie, that I thought dropped off towards the end. This sequel is very similar, but replace the fun with intense thrills and the dropped off to picked up.  Unlike the first film it escalates rather than falls away and so the action is outstanding from start to finish.  It is expertly choreographed and has a more vicious look this time.  There are scenes in this movie that shocked me completely and I was really blown away.  It’s a genre of film that always pulls me to the cinema and I’m looking forward to the next one, because surely they can’t top it?

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 2.5/3

Narrative: 2/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score 8/10

 

7.  Silence (January)

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Silence is a tough film, a long, slow process of torture basically.  Yet I feel like it is so beautifully done.  Scorsese deals with each scene with such care and nuance, with the cinematography being really gorgeous and complex.  The narrative is dark and at times lead Andrew Garfield loses his footing, but overall its another Scorsese triumph.  I’m not sure I could recommend this film to anyone and I’m in no rush to watch it again simply due to the subject matter.  Scorsese just manages to win me over with experience, and I think a really compelling story.

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 2/3

Narrative: 2.5/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 8/10

 

6.  T2: Trainspotting (January)

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It was sort of inevitable how much I would like this film, because of how much I love the original novel and film.  What the sequel brought was actually much more than I was expecting.  It was funny, tragic and had some great film making quirks like the original. All the cast were on top form and Danny Boyle certainly hasn’t lost it.  My original review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/t2-trainspotting-film-review/

Presentation: 2.5/3

Performance: 2.5/3

Narrative: 2.5/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 8/10

 

5. Logan (March)

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I had a real gun-wrenching reaction to this film.  Wolverine is a character that I’m fond of and he is portrayed perfectly in this film.  It’s a dark tale, full of tragedy and violence. The reaction I had to the film made me write this: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/logan-the-use-of-visceral-cinema/.  I would suggest reading that to see my full thoughts on the film, but to shorten it, I believe the film is a fantastic right to the bone visceral experience.

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 3/3

Narrative: 2.5/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 9/10

 

4. Manchester by the Sea (January)

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You know what, I adore this film.  The more I think about it the more I want it to be number 1 on my list, showing the strength of the top 3.  It is stunning on a visual level and a dramatic one.  Every single moment is perfect executed by director Ken Lonergan and everyone present on screen does a wonderful job.  It is a masterstroke performance from Casey Affleck in a story that will tear you down, but remind you of the simplicity of life and loss.  My original review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/manchester-by-the-sea-film-review/

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 3/3

Narrative: 3/3

Effect: 1/1

Final Score: 10/10

 

3. Baby Driver (June)

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This is a film that I really cannot wait to see again.  It is bold and exciting but most importantly it is a brilliant cinema experience.  Right from the start of the film I was hooked in with the soundtrack effect and it never lets up.  It is showcase of what music can do when it blends with film, and a showcase of Edgar Wright at his best.  He crafts together this heist romp that has an edge thanks to his auteur sensibilities.  And it is another film that I can universally recommend.  My original review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/baby-driver-film-review/

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 3/3

Narrative: 2.5/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 9/10

 

2. Free Fire (March)

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I was almost certain after seeing this film it would be my number 1 for the year, because it was so much fun to watch in the cinema.  Ben Wheatley is an interesting filmmaker and he continues to be with this film.  It fits into my favourite film category: small premise with interesting characters.  A 90 minute shootout is what it says on the tin, but the chaos that actually occurs is much more than that.  It’s a stunning take on violence and conflict that I have never seen before.  Each character has their own traits and beliefs meaning that there interactions are not only full of peril but are also full of humour.  I think its a real achievement and will go down as a classic in my books.  My original review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/free-fire-film-review/

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 3/3

Narrative: 3/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 9.5/10

 

1. Dunkirk (July)

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There is a lot I could say about this film and I’ve been really battling with myself whether to review it or not.  I could talk about the subject matter being really meaningful to me as a British person and the care Christopher Nolan takes with it.  I could talk about the groundbreaking film making techniques he employs, or the breathtaking cinematography.  I could talk about the edge Nolan puts on it by playing with the time of the plots.  All in all, it has to be experienced, and in the best way possible.  I saw it in 70mm iMAX and it utterly shattered me.  My bones creaked and my blood swirled through each masterfully crafted scene.  It’s a must watch, and once you’ve scene it, I’m pretty sure it’ll be near the top of your list too.

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 3/3

Narrative: 3/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 9.5/10

 

There are 7 other films that I’ve seen in this first half of the year, so I’ve ranked from 11-17 below…

11. Moonlight – P: 3/3, P: 3/3, N: 2/3, E: 0/1, F.S: 8/10

12. The Lost City of Z – P: 2.5/3, P: 1.5/3, N: 3/3, E: 0.5/1, FS: 7.5/10

13. Hidden Figures – P: 2/3, P: 3/3, N: 2.5/3, E: 0.5/1, FS: 8/10

14. Guardians of the Galaxy – P: 3/3, P: 2.5/3, N: 1.5/3, E: 0/1, FS:  7/10

15. War for the Planet of the Apes – P: 3/3, P: 2.5/3, N: 1/3, E: 0/1, FS: 6.5/10

16. Get Out – P: 2.5/3, P: 3/3, N: 1.5/3, E: 0/1, FS: 7/10

17. Alien Covenant – P: 2/3, P: 2/3, N: 1/3, FS: 5/10