There’s a lot to be said about The Favourite but one word sums it up: brilliant. Periodic films are usually a bore fest unless one is truly passionate about theatre and the plot. This type of genre is traditionally known for difficult English accents, mostly mumbling, which without subtitles would be difficult to fathom. Such films are also popularly known for the exquisite costumes and politeness exhibited which for the modern world is out of touch- the millennial generation made fashion trends out of hobo attire and rudeness, online and in real life, an aspiration but I digress.
The Favourite stars the ever-sultry Rachel Weisz, the ever-goofy Emma Stone and the acting goddess Olivia Coleman. The film depicts a rich and raw relationship between three historically prominent figures. Queen Anne of England (Coleman), Lady Marlborough (Weisz) and Abigail (Stone) are caught in a web of infighting, love making, fucking, vulnerability and ultimately power struggles. What makes this film exceptional is how the women are the focus and the men are depicted as flimsy extras with their over applied make up, hilarious wigs, tantrums, silly games of duck racing and high heels. The women are dressed in plain colours, usually monochromatic, bare make up, and speak frankly while clawing at each other in the most elegant and not so elegant manner. The coexistence of love and power, and which corrupts which, is the central theme.
The film begins with an exposition of Queen Anne’s neurosis, insanity, vulnerability, physical ailments, poor self-esteem and how out of touch she is with reality by gifting Lady Marlborough who is her best friend, trusted confidant and alleged lover, an enormous castle. Lady Marlborough reminds her that the war against the French; which is costing treasury a lot; is not yet over to which Queen Anne seems newly informed about. Sarah aka Lady Marlborough is the Queen’s right hand in ruling over the country; clever, bold and cunning; she is the voice of the Queen’s decisions and not only that, she is the ultimate decision maker.
In the first scene Lady Marlborough informs the Queen that her make-up makes her look like a badger, her manner in delivering her comment is neither subtle nor polite. This first exchange signals that theirs is a relationship of unprecedented intimacy, truthfulness, honesty and that power between the two is evenly distributed. The Queen has power in her royal position but it seems it is negotiated and even given up to Sarah because of the Queen’s vulnerabilities which Sarah is unafraid to confront and comfort. The Queen, we learn suffered a great deal: losing seventeen children, a husband, her sanity and her physical health. Seventeen rabbits, each one representing her dead children, are kept by the Queen in her chambers and Sarah absolutely detests them- she declares her love for the queen but refuses to entertain the rodents. The Queen who has all the power in the world, does not demand Sarah to engage with her “children” instead she surrenders to a stoic woman who wilfully chooses when to be tender much like a man.
Abigail enters the scene right at the bottom of the feeding chain. She is cousin to Lady Marlborough but Sarah is indifferent to her plight, even after Abigail recounts the story of how her father prostituted her and then burnt himself in their house. Abigail who was a lady enters the story with nothing: no titles, no belonging, and no solidarity from her only living prominent family member. Lady Sarah finds her job in the kitchen which Abigail seems content with but then the reality of sleeping on the floor against many bodies, washing with one bar of soap shared among the servants and a cold bucket of water, wakes her up. She is intent on climbing up the social ladder and becoming a lady again. She covets the golden key which Lady Marlborough swings from her dress with pride, every scene within the castle we hear the sound of the key chain before we see Lady Sarah- a calling to Abigail’s yearning for status.
Fortune favours the expedient and Abigail through her herbal knowledge relieves the Queen’s physical ailments and is promoted from servant to maid of Lady Sarah. At first, she is pleased with the position but then somehow, fortune follows her even more and she finds a key hole to edge closer into the Queens favour. A chess game for the Queen’s affection and power ensues between Abigail and Lady Sarah.
Lady Sarah, an excellent shooter, retaliates in a gentlemanly fashion when Abigail subtly threatens her about the secret affair she has seen with the Queen. Abigail realises that it would be beyond her powers and intellect to directly take on Lady Sarah and so targets the Queen by supplementing the areas where Sarah fails. Abigail gives into the Queen’s tantrums whereas Sarah would not, she showers the pale sickly Queen with comments unlike Sarah who calls her a badger, gives sexual favours to the Queen which Sarah only attends after public administrative business has been taken care off and mostly, Abigail shows affection to the Queen’s seventeen rabbits which Lady Sarah never gave recognition to.
Lady Marlborough is at first unperturbed by Abigail keeping the Queen “busy” while she attends to matters of governance. She believes that the Queen will get bored of her new doll because theirs is a relationship that has lasted from childhood to adulthood but Abigail is more cunning than her big bright eyes make her out to be.
The more Abigail schemes and rises up the social ladder, the more the descent of Lady Sarah’s powerful position, excellent reputation, beauty and influence- the last quality being the one she enjoyed the most and wielded like a strong phallus. The more prominence Abigail gains through the Queen, the less dominance for Lady Sarah in the Queen’s heart and mind, the more the Queen deteriorates both in physical and mental health. True love and true intimacy are lost in what should have ended as a one-night stand. Honesty and truthfulness have been traded for a fallacious façade. A lifelong strong constitution traded for a crumbling foundation. The ending of this film will be the beginning of many essays to come.
Yorgos (director) did a superb job with this film. The score is jarring and out of place flushing the expectancy of the regal and elegant from this prolific piece of work. The camera lenses and angles make it seem as if one is looking through a door peephole which is apt for such an alleged love triangle that happened behind closed doors. The text of the chapters before each beginning scene helps to pace this fast and fierce film. The Favourite is hilarious, heart-breaking, well performed, sensational and satiable.
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