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By midlandsmovies, Jan 17 2019 09:02PM

The Favourite (2019) Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

Olivia Colman stars as Queen Anne in this bawdy black comedy-drama that sees the eccentric and frail head of state avoid her kingdom’s woes as she gets caught up in a tit-for-tat but serious squabble between her confidante Sarah and Sarah’s poorer cousin Abigail.

La La Land’s Emma Stone plays Abigail Hill, a fallen woman who arrives caked in mud and is soon to set to work as a maid amongst the luxurious palace rooms. Despite undertaking menial labour she has her sights set on bigger things and begins a surreptitious plan to move up society’s ladder by usurping Sarah (Rachel Weisz) in the Queen’s affections.

Abigail begins by assisting the Queen with her ailments before planting more sinister seeds to curry favour with the throne. Once it is revealed that Sarah is in fact involved in a lesbian affair with the monarch, Abigail discovers another way into the Queen’s good books – via her bed.

Lanthimos shoots his film with glorious cinematography using wide angle and fisheye lenses to show the vast spaces in the stately house, and the sumptuous chequered floors provide a metaphorical board for the chess pieces to play out their game. The pawns of Weisz and Stone try to checkmate the Queen but their false appearance of power is not quite the same as the actual divine power of royalty.

There’s plenty of humour to be had as well and the three leads are nothing short of phenomenal on screen. Funny when needed, whilst also showing vulnerability and empathy, the trio of amazing actresses fully come into their own with their vicious put downs and deliciously devilsome dialogue.

A (very small) hint of Trading Places occurs as Stone’s lowly serf becomes a lady in waiting whilst Weisz’s influential lover is brought to her knees when she is drugged and almost killed after falling from her horse.

The fine female cast are pushed to the forefront whilst the men in court definitely take second fiddle. And as the women fire guns, slap each other and drink heartily, the males are caked in make-up and wigs and pushed behind in an interesting twist on the period drama formula.

Nicholas Hault as Robert Harley is the best of the background bunch where he gets to act like a total arse throughout and is given some of the best and most profane dialogue, playing his own games in parliament and beyond.

But it really is Colman, Stone and Weisz’s show. The power games, the flip-flopping and the sparring of physical and verbal humour are delivered impeccably by all three and allow the actresses to create fully-rounded characters we can sympathise with. Yet the audience can just as easily hate when the trio’s primal and nasty game-playing comes to prominence. But either way, their conniving deceits provide plenty of juicy drama to enjoy.

Stylistically it couldn’t be further from the director’s previous film The Killing of a Sacred Deer (review here) which appeared in our Top 20 of 2017 which was far slower, slightly meandering (in a good way) and conceptually abstract. Whilst this is far more accessible, similar mythical and classical themes are explored where power, retribution and revenge all come in to play throughout the narrative.

The lighting is natural and adds to the period realism where night time scenes are lit by candle flame echoing a similar technique seen in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon whilst the score utilises the classic music of composers like Handel and Bach.

Whilst its historical accuracy can be hotly debated, like Tarantino’s take on history I don’t see this as some quasi-realistic portrait and it sure has far more in common with a Carry On film than period-precise documentation. That said, with Anne keeping 17 rabbits to represent each of her child-bearing tragedies, Lanthimos doesn’t let the humorous aspects stop him from exploring the morbid issues of motherhood, dominance and sovereignty in all its forms.

However, with its added darkness and the Machiavellian machinations of the three protagonists, the film is full to the brim with incredible performances alongside some eccentricities in its technical aspects, plus we mustn’t forget its terrific quip-filled script. The Favourite therefore is a formidable film from a director who takes weighty themes and provides a theatre for three mighty actresses to deliver some of the best performances of the year and possibly of their career.

★★★★ ½

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jan 31 2017 09:24PM

Denial (2017) Dir. Mick Jackson

With a rather eclectic Hollywood filmography including LA Story, The Bodyguard and 1997’s Volcano, director Mick Jackson shies from the schlocky sentimentality of those movies to the much shocking issues in Denial.

The film follows a British trial where Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt is taken to court by Holocaust denier David Irving for libel. Lipstadt is played by an American-accented Rachel Weisz whilst the arrogant scholar Irving is embodied by a haughty Timothy Spall. With the convoluted UK legal system and laborious law processes proving to be frustrating, Weisz leaves her reputation in the hands of solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) who refuses to be drawn into the incredibly emotional aspects of the case.

Also in the legal team is Tom Wilkinson, as barrister Richard Rampton, who visits the concentration camp at Auschwitz with the rest of the team in an attempt to get to the facts of the case. Pushing the emotions to one side, he searches for evidence before the trial begins and Irving himself uses his media audience for his own self-centred exploits.

The film presents a balancing act of our human disgust at the atrocities, so well documented over the years, played against a court case where only the best evidence will do. Conflicts occur between Weisz and her team over one of the most emotional issues in human history yet the film forces the audience to throw those passionate feelings to one side to objectively disprove Irving’s ludicrous claims.

A pivotal scene when Weisz finally realises, and respects, the decisions made by an aloof Tom Wilkinson - which subsequently leads to Irving being revealed as the fool he is - was a dramatic high point in the film. Wilkinson’s subtle techniques as the character AND as an actor show him to be a master of his craft and he later brings a sensitivity to the role over a drink with Lipstadt. Convincing her to not give Irving the satisfaction of dragging victims to the dock, he and his team know that winning is the goal. The only possible goal and they will achieve it despite their feelings.

It was nice to see Mark Gatiss in a serious role as a local Polish historian and although Spall is great as Irving, his hammy waffling contrasts to the understated Wilkinson and its Tom, not Tim, who comes out on top. Both as actor and in the courtroom.

The film’s scenes at Auschwitz so many years later remind the audience of the ongoing efforts to maintain the site as a physical shrine but the history goes beyond the walls and gates and permeates our very soul. A sobering account of a court case that should have never occurred in the first place, the first rate acting helps create a very watchable drama that covers an event in recent history that reminds us to protect the events of the past.


Midlands Movies Mike

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