Director Yorgos Lanthimos certainly knows how to get people talking.

In his latest release, Emma Stone and Olivia Colman engage in a graphic sex act when a plethora of fluffy bunnies - each representing a dead child of Colman's character, Queen Anne — simultaneously (and absurdly) flood the screen.

This is just a glimpse into the skewed mind of Lanthimos, and the reason The Favourite has quickly become one of this year's Oscar front runners.

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

When sexual consent, exploitation and manipulation are under the media spotlight, there might not be a more poignant time to make a film about a love triangle between three women, all using sex as both weapon and means of validation. But that's not the only way in which The Favorite flips the script.

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It might just be the first period piece in which there's a devil-may-care approach to decorum — where the characters swear like sailors and often behave like them too. Not to mention the fact the men are relegated to periphery characters, shrouded in powder and rouge, sporting wigs and heels, while the women's faces are scrubbed of makeup.

"We didn't want to make a film about lesbians or homosexuality," Lanthimos explains. "No character even comments on the fact there's a homosexual relationship, which was very important to me. I wanted it to be a non-issue. We wanted the film to just be about humans and human behavior."

A still from a scene. Photo / Supplied
A still from a scene. Photo / Supplied

The breakout success of the Greek auteur's 2015 black comedy The Lobster gave him the pick of the litter for upcoming projects — with some of Hollywood's biggest stars lining up to work with him. The cast is stellar, with Rachel Weisz joining Stone and Colman as Lady Sarah Churchill, the queen's guide and confidante. Set in the early 18th century, England's ongoing war with France is in the hands of these three women, whose varying moods, moves and manipulations create an irrevocable ripple effect.

Stone, whose casting Lanthimos describes as "instinctive", was the only American actor on set and says it was The Favourite's historical setting that most attracted her to the part. "It was so exciting to me because [the film] takes place before my country was even founded," she explains. "I look around and we're shooting at this place where Queen Elizabeth would play as a little girl. To be in this whole new world...it was just cool."

British heartthrobs Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn round out the cast, with Alwyn beating out hundreds of actors for the role of the token (and dull) "stud". Upon reading the script, he instantly knew this was a project that had "everything".

"The story was so refreshing and different and unusual in the best way, unlike anything I'd read or any period film."

He's not wrong. With the interpreted lesbianism, on-screen masturbation and modern vernacular, it's clear Lanthimos, along with writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, have all but thrown historical accuracy out the window.

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

You can also expect to see more of Stone than you bargained for, but that is far from the most interesting aspect of her performance. It was a "joy", she says, to play such a complex role, especially for an actress famous for playing the charming girl next door.

"She had all the different emotions: lovely and empathetic and irredeemable. I didn't have to be wide-eyed and charming just because that's how she was written, but because there was a reason to be.... and that was furthering her own power and stability."

These conclusions were drawn from individual processing, Stone says, as character behavior and sexuality went surprisingly unbroached by Lanthimos and his cast throughout filming. Instead, the rehearsal process involved complicated games that entailed slapping one another's bottoms.

"It took away all that thinking like, 'It's a historical drama in England and there's a certain way you behave in a historical drama'," explains Weisz. "It was like starting afresh in uncharted terrain. He's after an action and reaction. Character, queerness, we never discussed, so I'm only now learning people's interpretation of the character."

The golden trio that is Stone, Colman and Weisz is sure to make The Favourite a box office success, as well as a critical one. Oscar chatter is already building - although, with three leading ladies of equal importance, the film could prove a challenge to the Academy and its voters.

"It's so funny, it's as if my two co-stars were unicorns, everyone has been saying it's 'so unusual' to have a film with strong female leads," explains Weisz. "I spend my whole life speaking to women… it's just fiction that's chosen to exclude them."

And in entertainment's current landscape, it's definitely a welcome shift. As Stone says, the film is certainly another step in the right direction. "I think things are changing in a big way because we're vocalising a lot more — I'm talking about roles for women… not necessarily rights for women."

LOWDOWN:
Who: Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman
What: The Favourite
When: In cinemas Boxing Day