The Favourite (2018)

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There’s a lot of vomit in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite. All three of its lead actresses—Oscar® winners Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone—get to throw up at some point during the period-costumed proceedings. Colman’s upchuck scene is the most delightful (sic); she daintily dabs at the corners of her mouth with a napkin after puking and goes right back to having her cake and eating it too (giving new meaning to Marie Antoinette’s famous words). Like Marie Antoinette—I’m talking about the Sofia Coppola film from 2006 now—The Favourite is a period piece clad in modern sensibilities (read on). Colman plays the frail, regally-impaired Queen Anne of England, at war with France circa 1708. Her most trusted friend and advisor is Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Weisz), who decides most of the governmental issues and would appear to have her majesty over a barrel (so to speak; they may be lovers but there’s more lewdness than loveliness in The Favourite). Things get more complicated when Sarah’s cousin Abigail Hill (Stone), a former aristocrat who has fallen on hard times, shows up looking for work. Too ambitious to remain a scullery maid, Abigail quickly sidles her way up the royal ladder, first as Sarah’s lady-in-waiting and then as the Queen’s confidante and new lover, a veritable match to the powder keg. If you’ve seen any of the director’s other films—Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, all dark and weird yet excellent—you’ll know that Lanthimos doesn’t do light and doesn’t do mainstream, and The Favourite is no exception. Unfortunately, it features a boorish script (by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara), nausea-inducing cinematography (notably in the interior scenes, where almost everything is shot, inexplicably, through a fisheye lens), and a score which oscillates between baroque noodlings and what sounds like a radiator being struck with a hammer. The sum of its parts, therefore, despite valiant turns from our talented triumvirate (all three of whom earned Academy Award®-nominations for their performances; Colman won), is a mean and manipulative affair that comes across as arch and icky and positively pretentious. Pity the fool who wanders in off the street expecting Merchant/Ivory.

(c) 2019 David N. Butterworth


Possum (2018)


Philip knocks about the marshes of England’s Norfolk Broads, a brown leather holdall forever in his grasp. It clearly contains something significant to him, something large and hairy and long-legged, something gross, grotesque, alive. Yet despite Philip’s attempts to rid himself of this “thing”—tossing it off a rickety bridge into a tidal estuary, submerging it in the waters of a treatment plant, or burning it in a backyard brazier—the “possum” (from a disturbing nursery rhyme Philip insistently narrates in voiceover) returns, time and again, to the shadows of his bedroom wall in the damp, dirty, and fire-damaged house he, along with his grungy Uncle Maurice, calls home. Possum is chilling genre fare from the mind of writer/director Matthew Holness (Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace), and it leverages the ennui of the depressed British shut-in to genuinely creepy effect. Holness relies heavily on atmospherics—and the sub-dulcet harmonics of the Radiophonic Workshop—rather than any kind of plot or character development, but does so with dingy aplomb. Missing school kids, charred parents, and imprudent puppetry all feature in the Lynch-ian Possum’s underlying mystery. Mission Impossible: Fallout’s Sean Harris, perfectly cast here, is singularly vacant and distressed as the tormented Philip and Alun Armstrong (2001’s The Mummy Returns) is his uncannily disconsolate equal as Maurice. The title creation might well be a product of Philip’s damaged psyche—witness his gaping beige mac and penchant for hanging around schoolyards—but that doesn’t detract from the successful feel of the film, a grim, grimy affair that crawls its way beneath your skin like dirt under badly-bitten fingernails.

(c) 2019 David N. Butterworth