The Favourite is a cinematic exercise of exploring human frailties, that inexorably engulf a relation between three women of different ages, statures and desires. Queen Anne, played by Olivia Colman is a fragile vase of vulnerability who is constantly on the verge of throwing a tantrum to titillate her secret lover Sarah who is also her political voice in the Queen’s audience, in matters of national importance. The third wheel in this secretive love affair is Abigail, young girl who was once a lady until her father lost her to a gambling bet and is now a servant of Sarah.
Yorgos Lanthimos dabbles with the most humane emotions that are wrapped around by the intricately designed resplendence of the Royal household. Lanthimos along with his cinematographer Robbie Ryan, use Fish-eye videography that captures the vastness of the spaces these desperately lonely souls occupy. This also allows us to soak in the richness of the art design that has gone into creating the overwhelming beauty of these frames, lit by natural light and the pinnacle of visual glory is achieved when the darkness of the passages is sparsely lit by the aching warmth of candles. This fascinating visual style is aided by music that colours the apparent sorrow or comedy of the scene with a sense of unsettling ambivalence. The writing is a delightful overlapping of piercing sadness and disarming humour that reeks of self-pity, mostly attributed to the delightfully loathsome Queen Anne.
Sarah and Abigail are cousins indulging in a filthy battle to be The Favourite of the Queen. The Queen too enjoys this banter and revels in the attention she gains. Sarah, played by Rachel Weisz is a commanding personality who takes her relationship with the Queen for granted and often, willingly, succumbs to the annoyance of Her Majesty. Emma Stone’s Abigail’s ascent of hierarchy and the Queen’s affection leaves Sarah turning green with envy. The scene which establishes this shift in favouritism or the pretence of it, is directed with a beguiling mixture of sound and editing, displaying charming deception but conveying the point nonetheless. Another intriguing bit of filmmaking is when Abigail and her lover, Masham indulge in a dance of raw power and sensuality, as we witness a bewitched Masham trying to capture the elusive seductress, in a picturesque locale.
As The Favourite comes to a hauntingly melancholic end, you are consumed by the pathos of this story that reflects an unmistakable charm of a Shakespearean tragedy. The final image of the film leaves you in a muddle of despair, as the face of a wretched Anne and a mournfully pleased Abigail, who contemplates the distress she has unleashed upon her Queen but also revels in the privilege of being a choiceless Favourite, dissolve into each other.