'The Favourite': Refreshingly Empowering

The Favourite, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, is a striking film. It is full of decadent visuals, sharp dialogue, and highly unlikable characters. All that said, it was rather brilliant.

It would be easy to peg the three leads, Abigail, Queen Anne, and Sarah as selfish, untrustworthy, and just generally bad people. Which in some ways is true. Yet as the film goes on, the viewer can see that they act this way out of desperation, love, or desire for safety. They have each been handed more than their fair share of cruelty by the world, and they are willing to fight tooth and nail for any happiness they can get. The fact that they are so unlikeable is one reason why they are so complex, and it’s what makes this film empowering.

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Usually with a female lead you get someone who is strong, level-headed, and good-hearted, often accompanied with a side of sass. Think of Princess Leia from the Star Wars series, Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, or Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. This is all fine and well, but it leaves out the rest of the spectrum of personality traits, not to mention shades of pigment. Young girls should look up to the strong female leads in movies, but they also need to be able to see characters with darknesses and imperfections. Characters like these are often more realistic or comforting. Men are lucky in that they have an encyclopedia of these characters to choose from: Han Solo from Star Wars, Tyler Durden from Fight Club, Deadpool from Deadpool, etc. The truth is characters like these are more fun, and in a weird way more relatable; being a mix of dark and light.

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In The Favourite, not all the women are strong, they are not all kind, they are not all smart and beautiful. They are openly vulgar, which is often not allowed of female characters. There are more questionably-tasteful vomit shots than most audiences would be comfortable with. While these women are not anti-heros waiting to be loved en mass, their willingness to scream, curse, and fight is much more realistic to the human experience. Not only that, it is necessary to be seen. All three are powerful and complex, and wielding power on a grand scale. This is more relevant to today than ever as we see more women holding roles of political power. And how they are portrayed in media and pitted against each other is a discussion of its own.

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While the three leads in The Favourite are often fighting within themselves, it keeps the film focused on them. This goes beyond the political arena. Another unusual motif for mainstream media is the fact that they are battling for the affections of another woman. This lesbian love-triangle is so decadently female in nature that it sets the tone for the entire film.

Films with female leads usually have a male counterpart, whether it be love-interest or enemy: Clairice faces Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, Elizabeth ends up with Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, and Wonder Woman battles Ares in Wonder Woman. This isn’t always the case, but it is more common than not. 

The Favourite steers clear of that trope as the trio brashly keep the focus tight on themselves. And while they are in the spotlight they are shown to be vicious, petty, damaged, and loving.