The Favourite at the New York Film Festival

Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film, The Favourite, screened for the press the morning of its premiere as the opening night selection at the New York Film Festival. Susan Kouguell took the opportunity to speak with the film’s director and writer.


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Image credit: Yorgos Lanthimos (Emma Stone)

“Humor in general is something I can’t get away from, no matter what the material is.”
–Director Yorgos Lanthimos

Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film The Favourite, screened for the press the morning of its premiere as the opening night selection at the New York Film Festival. In attendance was Lanthimos, along with writer Tony McNamara, costume designer Sandy Powell and actors Emma Stone, Olivia Colman, Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn.

Image credit: Susan Kouguell

Lanthimos’s previous films include Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015) and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017).

About The Favourite

Early 18th century.  At the height of the War of the Spanish Succession, England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving.  A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant, Abigail (Emma Stone), arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the Queen’s companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfill her ambitions, and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.

Image-credit Yorgos-Lanthimos. (Rachel-Weisz-Olivia-Colman)

The Screenplay

Loosely based on historical events, the film is divided into eight chapters with titles, including  This Mud StinksI Do Fear Confusion and AccidentsWhat an Outfit, and I Dreamt I Stabbed You in the Eye

I asked McNamara and Lanthimos about their collaboration, and the involvement that the actors had, including any improvisation, and how closely they stayed to the script.


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McNamara: “We were on the same page very fast when we first talked about it; we always knew where we were headed with this tragic comedy and very complicated characters that we were driving towards.”

Lanthimos: “We were around during rehearsals and saw how certain things worked or didn’t work, and changed a couple of things, but other than that, not much changed. The script has a particular tone, so when you think it is right, you just try to go with it. I think it helps the actors as well. Any kind of improvisation was mostly physical, or the way we staged the scenes and maybe we added a couple of lines here and there. It’s all about figuring out how the scene is set up and how you can change it in order to make it work better, because you might have thought something different before, but it doesn’t really work the same way when you’re actually there and going through it.”

The Emotional Center

When asked what the emotional center of the film was, writer Tony McNamara responded: “We didn’t focus on one, but I think the moment when Anne sees the kids playing their instruments and drifts away from Abigail, which leads into the dance—that connects them in a much bigger way, but it also shows a deeper sense of Anne’s tragedy, and how mentally unstable she is at times.”

What Drew Lanthimos to the Material

Lanthimos: “It was a story about three women in a particular point in time that had this type of power and also their characters and personalities, and how that affected a whole country, and the fate of the country of thousands and millions of people.”

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