Leave it to Yorgos Lanthimos to offer up the most wickedly delicious romance of the Oscar season with “The Favourite.” He turns the palace of Queen Anne (Globe-winner Olivia Colman) into a playground and battlefield, as rival cousins, Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone), curry favor by manipulating her affections.
And the director relied on his go-to editor, Yorgos Mavropsaridis, to navigate the ups and downs of Abigail and Sarah’s power struggle without ever losing sight of the queen’s dominance. At the same time, Mavropsaridis made the wild shifts in tone seem plausible, given the absurdities and eccentricities that occur in the palace.
“I was presented with a first assembly and Abigail succeeded in getting the favor of the queen and then what?,” said Mavropsaridis. “It became a more existential situation about the queen, which is more interesting.”
The change in emphasis from Abigail’s upward palace climb to Anne’s quest for unconditional love began to take shape in the very first scene. Rather than starting with Abigail’s entrance as the impoverished younger cousin of Sarah seeking employment, Mavropsaridis instead opened with Anne and Sarah talking about their different interpretations of love.
“What’s the story about? The queen, love,” Mavropsaridis said. “Better to start with her [and Sarah as her confidante and adviser] than the appearance of some girl in the palace. It breaks it up and then we get into the love triangle. We tested many things. There are a lot of scenes, a lot of situations, and it’s very difficult to take out, so we followed this series of sequence building.”
Lanthimos choreographed “The Favourite” like a dance, contrasting the rapid ascent of Abigail with the gradual descent of Sarah. It begins with Abigail dancing with Anne to curry favor and Sarah striking back during the pigeon-shooting scene with Abigail. But make no mistake: Despite Anne’s physical frailty and bouts of depression, she’s the queen and all power rests with her.
Overall, though, this delicate balancing act gave Mavropsaridis the opportunity to experiment with nuance and play with parallel editing. For example, when Abigail goes to the woods to collect a balm to heal the queen, the editor massaged it so she didn’t appear too scheming at first.
He additionally got to fix a scene that the director didn’t like, in which Abigail puts poison in Sarah’s tea. He juxtaposed Sarah riding in the woods before her fall and Abigail getting inspired by watching men playing with oranges.
“For this film, we had to be ambiguous about Abigail’s intentions and go deeper into the character, and although Sarah’s not so ambiguous, you do feel a sense of sympathy when Abigail supersedes her. But we don’t want to be sentimental. And, in the end, people are free to interpret Abigail’s actions differently.”