VENICE, ITALY – AUGUST 30: Emma Stone, Yorgos Lanthimos and Olivia Colman walk the red carpet ahead of the ‘The Favourite’ screening during the 75th Venice Film Festival at Sala Grande on August 30, 2018 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Antony Jones/Getty Images)
  • Festivals

Yorgos Lanthimos Brings a ‘Favourite’ to Venice

An ailing queen. A lady who runs the country. A scheming cousin.

In his latest offering, The Favourite, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) veered from his usual subject matters and tells the story of three strong females in the late 17th and early 18th century Britain. The entertaining historical farce surrounding Queen Anne, her confidante Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and her down-on-luck younger cousin Abigail Hill stars three Golden Globe winners: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, respectively. It is the first time that Queen Anne is a central character in a film: “I knew nothing about her before I started working on the script and found out that not even English people know very much about her life”, says Lanthimos, who worked on the screenplay for nine years with original screenwriter Deborah Davis in addition with Tony McNamara is based on historical occurrences.

“I was very interested by the central characters that actually existed and I felt very intrigued to create something that had three women in the front which is very rarely seen in cinema”, says the director: “I have worked much longer on this project than on any of my others to get it the way I envisioned.”

There is sex, both between women and men and women and women, and nudity. Intrigue, betrayal, and corsets: “Oh, the corsets”, sighs Olivia Colman. “I was actually much luckier, I had some very lose garments, but poor Rachel and Emma were pretty much sewn into their costumes.” The British actress regards it as a blessing “that I had to gain a lot of weight for the role. This was not about vanity!” she laughs. “I enjoyed gaining the weight, losing it was another story. I am not a very disciplined person when it comes to that.” There is a lot of physical comedy involved in her part and although choreographed, she injured herself: “I twisted my ankle once while running with the crutch.” She, too, did not know any details of her character’s life: “I had heard about Queen Anne architecture, about Queen Anne furniture but nothing about her, where she came in the order of monarchs or that she had 17 children, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. It’s fascinating because she was the first monarch of the United Kingdom.”

In the film Queen Anne’s 17 children (she lost all of them) are represented by the love for her 17 rabbits: “The rabbits were quite easy to work with. I mean, they didn’t have to do anything complicated”, says the director but his leading lady begs to differ: “They wee all the time!” laughs Olivia Colman: “Lying in bed with them I could feel it getting very wet. The costume got a bit soggy, so that was unpleasant. But I do like animals. And we had a couple of favorites, one we named Strawberry.”

“Who doesn’t love rabbits, those little buggers”, adds Emma Stone, “but when you let 17 of them lose on a wood floor, it gets a little slippery. And they also bite each other.”

Colman had a small part in The Lobster in which Rachel Weisz played the lead and both love working with the director that always surprises them with his vision. The anamorphic camera and fisheye lenses that Lanthimos used were intentional from the start, he explains: “That is something that I have been developing for a long time and used in my previous films. It’s a personal taste and approach in how I film certain stories, and, of course, I adapted according to what the story is each time, what the scene is each time. In this particular film it felt that this kind of representation of the world was very much in tune with the themes of what the characters went through: presenting those lone figures in those huge rooms in a distorted environment felt very close to what the characters were going through. I wanted to contradict the close-ups with the very wide spaces they occupied. The contrast adds to that.”

Colman was surprised when she saw the finished product, Emma Stone was not: “The way Yorgos sees the world is just absolutely insane. I watched him every morning when he composed the shots and chose the angles to get this operatic feeling, was amazing. I knew exactly what he was doing because I am obsessed with the work of the cinematographer. I constantly annoy the camera crew on my films. Plus Yorgos was very sweet in explain to me what the shots were going to be.” Emma Stone, director-to-be? No, she says “but possibly a DP-in-the-making!”