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FILM REVIEW: The Favourite



Break out your finest wigs and corsets, Yorgos Lanthimos has resurrected period dramas. Typically I tend to stay away from period dramas, my only exceptions being the 1995 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and some of Kenneth Branagh’s catalogue of Shakespearean retellings, because the plots tend to be a little contrived and the characters feel like they fall into the uncanny valley. The Favourite, however, obliterated my preconceived notations. Set in the 18th century, The Favourite follows a semi-fictional reimagining of the relationship between Sarah Churchill, Queen Anne’s closest advisor and lover, and Abigail Hill, a new servant who has fallen from higher standings, as they wage an uncourtly battle against each other to maintain the affections of an ailing and unstable Queen Anne. Set to a soundtrack of Bach, Vivaldi, and Schubert, this tragicomedy is absurd, bawdy and a much-needed breath of fresh air.

Lanthimos’ is widely known for his penchant for the offbeat and absurd, so in comparison to his previous works The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Favourite is a little easier on the palate but would still make an excellent introduction to his films for the uninitiated. That’s not to say The Favourite is an easy viewing – far from it. It’s highly visceral, filled with sex, blood, vomit, poison, and violence. It’s clear Lanthimos loves to make his audiences squirm from watching a scene wherein Queen Anne painfully vomit into an ornate vase before taking a messy bite of sky blue cake.

The cinematography also loves to play with the unexpected. Helmed by Robbie Ryan, it is sprinkled with beautiful visual oddities such as lighting fast pans (achieved without the use of a Steadicam, may I add), dolly shots, fisheye, and wide shot lenses. Some of these choices may feel gimmicky if highly stylised cinematography isn’t your thing but I found it enhanced The Favourites punk-infused rebellion against the powdery Merchant-Ivory films of the ’80s and ’90s, which so frequently come to mind when someone mentions ‘period drama’.

As well as adding to the films off-kilter rhythm, it allows the characters to be dwarfed by the palace, which reveals their more vulnerable moments in such an isolating environment  While it is undoubtedly that The Favourites mise en scène is rich and luxurious, thanks to the work of production designer Fiona Crombie and costume designer Sandy Powell who filled each shot with pearls, heavy velvet, mahogany, intricate tapestries, and towering wigs, the three little gems of the film are Emma Stone as Abigail, Rachel Weisz as Sarah and Olivia Colman as Queen Anne.

Emma Stone’s steadily increasing appetite for power and status throughout the film, having originally been introduced as a wide-eyed ingenue who was gambled away in a card game by her own father, is at times despicable as she worms her way into Queen Anne’s heart and bed. I’m sure every other review has commented on it but keep an ear open for Stone’s English accent, it’s pretty solid. She is also a perfect foil, initially, to Rachel Weisz’s Sarah, who is blunt, audacious and immensely funny as she knocks her lines out of the park with a witheringly cool delivery. Weisz’s romantic moments with Coleman feels real, tender, filled with longing glances and knowing smiles, and is still wonderfully bawdy. I’m sure I was the only audience member, amongst a crowd of elderly couples, to have yelped with delight when Coleman orders Weisz to “fuck [her]” in the royal library. 

Coleman’s portrayal of the sickly and unstable queen is heart-wrenching to watch. Her sudden screaming mood swings followed by torrential downpours of paranoia, low self-esteem, and physical agony provides a stark contrast to her comical, bratty outbursts and proves that Anne has much more heart and humanity than audiences would originally give her credit for.

I came away from the screening with so many of Coleman’s scenes printed behind my eyelids, however, my favourite is a tight shot of Queen Anne as she watches Sarah dance with another member of her court. The camera lingers on her for roughly 30 seconds, as every emotion rolls over her pale face and her eyes fill to the brim with tears, before swallowing it all and demanding that the dance stops. While my account does not do her performance justice, Coleman is a master of control and emotional vulnerability as an actor and is thoroughly deserving of her BAFTA and Oscar nominations. This is also why Lanthimos is such a superb director, he gives everything to his films. Humour, strength, pain, and playfulness. The Favourite lets us have our cake and eat it too.

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As part of Home‘s annual cinematic Halloween celebration, FilmFear, we were lucky enough to catch a screening of Darren Lynn Bousman’s latest flick ‘St Agatha’. Having previously directed sequels for the seminal ‘Saw’ franchise, Bousman came at the project with a whole wealth of experience directing gory thrillers. For this nunsploitation movie however, the horror came far more gradually and psychologically; though never the less terrifying.

St. Agatha (2018)

Set in a small town in the 1950’s, the plot follows Mary (Sabrina Kern); a young pregnant woman who’d just hit rock bottom. Desperate and without hope of a better life for herself and her unborn child, Mary seeks solace at an out-of-town convent where we’re introduced to the authoritarian Mother Superior (Carolyn Hennesy) and her odd-bod following of nuns. Mary’s hopes of sanctuary are quickly shattered, as she uncovers the sinister nature of the convent, and the nuns who’s supervision she is under.

Despite playing on many classic horror tropes, ‘St Agatha’ is a psychological thriller like nothing I’ve previously seen. It’s religious context could so easily have dictated this movie to play on supernatural ideas like many of its peers, however the evil we see is purely human. The sheer cruelty displayed by Mother Superior acts as the frame work for the story, as she picks off the women in her care one by one.

The spontaneous brutality quickly loses its shock factor though, as the audience quickly become accustomed to the routine physical and psychological torture that face the women. Despite it’s best efforts to keep the viewer in suspense throughout, it doesn’t take much time to realise that the film with play out as a battle of morality between Mother Superior and Mary (who is ‘reborn’ as the titular Agatha).

‘St Agatha’ is a bombardment of horror from the very start, however the desperation to keep the story unpredictable often played off as whimsical and even a bit funny. The film’s strength was absolutely in the complexity of Agatha and Mother Superior’s relationship, however the lack of attention paid to the supporting characters left the film feeling shallow in parts. Regardless, ‘St Agatha’ is well worth a watch. It’s idiosyncrasies give it a truly fresh take on many classic horror tropes, and definitely won’t leave the viewer disappointed.

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REVIEW: One Cut of the Dead @ HOME


When you think of horror-comedy, you’ll probably go straight for the Scary Movie franchise – and with good reason. It takes something special for laughs and scares to sit comfortably in the same script without lapsing into parody or farce – did somebody say Sharknado? One Cut of the Dead is a breakout zombie horror classic that marries the two in award-winning fashion. It screened at HOME last night as part of Film4’s FilmFear season.

One Cut of the Dead is the brainchild of Japanese writer-director-producer Shin’ichiô Ueda – and it simply can’t be reviewed without first acknowledging the 37-minute single-take opener that has audiences going mad. At first, it’s disorientating: who is it that keeps wiping blood spatter off the camera lens? It only becomes clear later on that this isn’t an overlooked continuity error – it’s actually the central axis of a stellar meta-comedy.


But back to the plot. The film opens in a disused water filtration plant, somewhere in rural Japan. A megalomaniac director berates two young stars for their apparent ineptitude during filming of – you guessed it – TV zombie flick, One Cut of the Dead. They take a break after a scene’s 42nd take as the mood gets fractious. Needless to say, the cast are then split up very quickly, after some brief exposition – which is when the zombies come to play.horror, one cut of the dead, home, manchester

As the living and undead play a game of cat-and-mouse around the abandoned plant, the director pops back at the worst possible moments, delighting in how realistic everyone’s fear seems – and how great his film is shaping up. Watch out for make-up lady Nao’s invaluable self-defence lessons and being surprisingly handy with an axe.

Side note: it’s really difficult to not give away all the spoilers on this one, so it’s best you witness how the plot unfolds for yourself…

Every film genre features the joke-within-a-joke trope. Yet here it feels organic, the plot more relatable and the humour more…human.

The trailer points towards One Cut of the Dead being just another gore-fest at the hands of an unknown director. But that’s just a secondary device around which the main plot is based – which in itself replicates the reality of Ueda’s entire project. Any initially clunkiness adds to the comedic credibility of the latter stages of the film as Ueda’s intent slots into place.

This film comes highly recommended for those who aren’t so good with gore. Ueda portrays the trials of filming on a tight budget with aplomb, making easy bedfellows of contrasting concepts: a cast making the best of things, a father-daughter reconciliation and the universal appeal of slapstick.

No wonder it has a coveted 100% rating (97% viewer rating) on Rotten Tomatoes. Heartily endorsed by Film4 Channel Editor and FilmFear curator David Cox, One Cut of the Dead lovingly pokes fun at the genre it inhabits. This irreverently self-referential offering is one to watch, laugh and recommend to everyone you know: you won’t regret it.

You can still buy tickets for FilmFear here, taking advantage of HOME’s multi-save ticketing system.


PREVIEW: FilmFear @ HOME, 26-31 October

Words by Alice Salmon

Halloween is just around the corner and all (evil) eyes are on HOME, as celebrated indie horror film festival FilmFear returns for another year of screams, spooks and scares. (Please note: pun-haters and the squeamish alike should look away now). This season (of the witch), MCR Live will be covering the festival for the first time – and with its fiendish calendar of events co-curated by Film4, there’s something for the horror fan in every (haunted) house.

You’ll find previews of cult genres (cheerleader slasher, anyone?) alongside Q&As from (in)famous directors and a (blood)-spattering of cult classics. These really are six (six, six) days of unmissable cinema. Music fans too, listen up – with scores from John Carpenter littering this year’s festival, everyone’s spine will be tingled. Here are some of our top picks ahead of the festival’s respawn tomorrow:

One Cut of the Dead (15)

Released last year to critical acclaim, Japanese zombie horror One Cut of the Dead has already gained notoriety for its agonising 40 minute single-take opener. Be prepared for blood, guts and a surprising amount of black comedy.

Mandy (18)

Blending action, horror and romance in one lethal cocktail, Mandy stars Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough in their fight against a seemingly-innocuous hippie cult who are in turn in league with a satanic biker gang. It ticks every box for those who like their horror bold, bloody…and with crossbows.

The Fog (15)

The penultimate day of the festival sees one of three cult classics brought back from the afterlife. Our pick of the three is The Fog, starring horror heroes Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh and Adrienne Barbeau – it’s an ‘80s feast for the (six) senses.


Want to check out these, and more, but you reckon it’ll get pretty expensive? Think again. 

HOME offers a multi-buy ticketing system, so the more films you book tickets for, the more money you save. For fans of indie cinema, horror classics, and those who already know what you did last summer, this promises to be devilishly good.

Click here for the full programme of events and ticket bookings


COMMENT: M.I.A. and the Sound of Identity

Words by Alice Salmon

It’s widely agreed that art is the sum of its influences. Pick any great beatmaker, composer or lyricist, and you can hear their identity. For starters, there’s an endless array of artists that cite J Dilla as their biggest influence – his iconic sound is heard today hip hop, jazz and classical genres alike. Hear how Peggy Gou opts to sing in her native Korean throughout It Makes You Forget (Itgehane). And of course, witness Amy Winehouse’s famously mercurial back catalogue – her enduring love of hip hop and trad jazz reframed by a later exploration of Motown.

Arguably top of this list is the Sri-Lankan (via South London) rapper, M.I.A, whose newly released documentary Matangi/ Maya/ M.I.A. unfolds as an impassioned, intricate tapestry of the two cultures that shaped her and her art. Cut from over 700 hours of archive footage shot by M.I.A. and her family as well as long-time friend Stephen Loveridge, Matangi/ Maya/ M.I.A. unflinchingly contextualises one of the most politically-charged artists of our time.

Set in the family home in London and the Arulpragasams’ dwellings in Jaffna, Sri Lanka (via Coachella, the Grammys and the 2012 Super Bowl), the film’s relentless cross-continent leaps seem a deliberate reflection of Maya’s steadfast grip on her cultural identity amidst unpredictable surroundings.

“Wanna hear my story? I’m gonna show you my story”

M.I.A talks candidly throughout the film, recounting her (at times chaotic) formative years. She recalls coming home from school one day to see the neighbours lined up, removing her family’s possessions from their Hounslow home. She told them that they could take what they wanted as long as she could keep her radio. Spoiler alert: they took the radio. As a result, she was forced to hear the unfamiliar sounds of hip hop blaring from the adjoining flat as she lay in bed that night. And from this, she says, her sound was born.

She doggedly pushes her reality into the Western consciousness throughout the film, with staggering reactions from the mainstream media. It’s in the face of such opposition that her music takes on a renewed relevance and meaning: we had no idea we were cookin’ for commandos / everybody came in four-wheeler truckloads (Macho, unreleased, 2004).


The documentary is a perfect illustration of how every morsel of art you ever consume is born from something else: music exists on one level to be enjoyed for what it is, but when you delve a little deeper and explore lyrics, artwork, beats and samples, there’s a wealth of riches to be devoured.

This film is a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in M.I.A’s music. If it doesn’t make you want to revisit a track that has become an internet meme or re-evaluate M.I.A as a feminist icon – or just acknowledge her as a straight-up badass (search “M.I.A, NFL”) – then it will give you a poignant insight into what it really means to march to your own beat.



Matangi/ Maya/ M.I.A. is now showing at HOME. Book your tickets here.