Venice: Yorgos Lanthimos' 'The Favourite' Contests "Male Gaze in Cinema"

The new film, starring Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, tells a story through the eyes of three female leads in 18th century England.

In Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film, The Favourite, a perfectly cast Olivia Colman plays a gout-ridden Queen Anne who lets her companion (and lover) Lady Sarah, played by Rachel Weisz, govern in her place. When Sarah’s cousin arrives — Abigail (Emma Stone), a former lady fallen to the level of a servant — she sees an opportunity to work her way up back up to her aristocratic ranking, no matter what stands in her way. 

An almost unrecognizable Nicholas Hoult plays Harley, another man angling for power while Joe Alwyn plays Masham, another stepping-stone Abigail uses to reach for the top. The ensuing chessboard match of politics plays out like seven seasons of Game of Thrones in two tightly woven hours, with an end that feels like it will somehow be just as satisfactory, where even the winners are losers.

While Venice’s new embargo prohibits journalists from revealing opinions on films before the first official public screening, it’s impossible to not mention that Oscar buzz was abundant coming out of the screening for any of the three female leads who all popped in their roles on the screen. Each frame of the 18th century English set mirrored perfectly an oil painting in lighting, costumes and design. Many were whispering that this was Lanthimos’ most successful film thus far.

Lanthimos said he had been working on the film for nine years before the final film got made, so it had gone through many variations, but the film was always a story about three women, something rarely seen in cinema, which is what initially drew him to the project.

“I got acquainted with these three female characters, which happened to be real people. Right away I felt it was an interesting story in its own right,” he said.

When asked of the relevance of this film in the #MeToo era, Lanthimos said of course the project predates the movement, but he said, “I think that the positive aspect of this film is that it does again focus on three female characters, which is rare.”

“But what we tried to do is portray them as human beings, because most of the time, obviously, because of the prevalence of the male gaze in cinema, women are mostly portrayed as housewives or girlfriends or objects of desire,” he continued.

“So I guess the positive aspect of this film is that we tried, in our small contribution, is we tried to show them as complex and complicated and wonderful and horrific as they are, like every other human being,” he said.

Speaking of their complex roles, Colman said, “Queen Anne was a joy to play because she sort of feels everything, the petulant child thing, who is under-confident and doesn’t know if anybody genuinely loves her I think … someone with too much power and too much time on her hands.”

Speaking on the sexual politics of the story, she said, “There was lots of it and that’s good and that was sort of timeless, I suppose. We think we invented sex but we didn’t. It’s been going on for quite a long time,” she joked. “It was awfully fun having sex with Emma Stone.”

“It was really fun having sex with you too,” Stone replied.

For Stone she said being the only American in the cast was difficult, as she didn’t want her accent to stick out like a “sore thumb.” And the “corsets were a challenge, because you can’t breathe all day,” she said.

When asked if the rivalry at court was anything like the rivalry in Hollywood, Stone replied, “Hell, yeah,” before admitting that a competitive spirit likely exists in most industries.

In terms of creating a film with a historic basis, Lanthimos was also adamant that everything was seen through the eyes of the three women.

“The most important thing to understand is to observe how these very few people, depending on their opinions, or even depending on specific moods during a day, can make decisions that effect the lives of thousands or millions of people. And that felt very universal and timeless,” he said. “It was fairly easy for us to focus on the things that mattered regarding the film, and the things we're trying to say, and the things that mattered.”