If playwright Harold Pinter does brilliant depictions of the menace and impotence of male experience within patriarchy, then this film, Yorgos Lanthimos's The Favourite, produces a stunning equivalent of female power games in a dog-eat-dog world. This felt like a 'woman' film, where boy-meets-girl romance is simply – and peripherally – a means to an end, while a more intense and sinister love triangle plays out between Olivia Coleman's ailing Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as her confidante and aide Sarah, and Emma Stone as the ambitious maid Abigail. Part dark comedy, part courtly intrigue, The Favourite has women as active, ambiguous puppet masters, violent in their intentions to love, or to control, or annihilate. Think the world of Jane Austen through a twisted looking glass, or alternatively, two Lady Macbeths, fighting it out for access to a female King Lear, whose grasp of reality appears frequently, and increasingly, unstable.
Disorientation, indeed, is part of the dynamic: director Lanthimos inserts almost-subliminal moments in different scenes that make you double-take, whether to the language or the movement of figures. Music too is used to unsettle, drifting from grandeur to noise through the manipulation of strings, recreating perhaps the unconscious psyche of the fragile queen.
And then there are the rabbits. Seventeen, as I remember, kept in tiny hutches in the queen's bedroom, lovingly, affectionately trapped and spoiled. Working as both weirdly effective props and metaphors, they allow us to analyse the three protagonists by their interaction with the fluffy, innocent pets – surrogates, we discover, to all the children the queen has lost in childbirth or infancy.
Psychologically, then, this is an ambiguous, unnerving ride, a recreation of power and the damage it creates to those involved – both the winners and the losers. If the ending left me and – it seemed – the audience wondering at its bizarre openness, it also provides a fitting conclusion for a film of unpredictable comedy and disturbance.