“The Favourite”: Passion and Power in Queen Anne’s England

By, Teresa L. ’19

An aged queen, besieged by gout and surrounded by tiresome politicians – The Favourite’s plot hardly sounds like the thrilling, occasionally absurdist, and striking romp that it is. But while the film examines the life of Queen Anne, who ruled England, Ireland, and Scotland during the early 18th century, it defies most preconceptions of the standard period drama and tells the story of three women and their interwoven relationships with wit and a touch of madness.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos takes significant liberty in his re-telling of Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) interactions with her longtime friend and lover Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and newcomer Lady Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), who happens to be Lady Sarah’s cousin, as the latter two women vie to become the Queen’s favourite. Historians have generally agreed that it is unlikely that Queen Anne had affairs with either Sarah or Abigail, despite intimate letters and rumors spread by Anne’s political adversaries; the Queen’s health problems were extremely severe, and Lady Sarah is known to have expressed abhorrence for lesbianism.

But the point of The Favourite is not to deliver a factually correct representation of Queen Anne’s court. Instead, its goal is to entertain and to examine female relationships, whether romantic, familial, or amical – cast member Joe Alwyn explained that Lanthimos “made it quite clear that there wasn’t going to be much consideration for historical accuracy… [he wanted the cast] to explore the relationships between us.” And the film does just that, and captivatingly so. “It was definitely entertaining,” said Lydia B. ’19. “I don’t really care whether it’s historically accurate because it didn’t seem like the movie was pretending to be historically accurate… it was very much a piece of entertainment.”

The performances of the three central actresses – Colman, Weisz, and Stone – were all phenomenal. The movie has its bizarre elements – such as 17 rabbits kept as pets by the Queen – yet the three women depicted were strikingly real and restrained. The key moments of dramatic weight were expressed with a kind of raw, quiet energy, conveying overwhelming and moving emotion without unnecessary adornment or dramatics. The women were satisfyingly complex, and it’s hard to decide who is the hero and who is the villain, with each of the three taking turns asking for empathy and garnering awe for their cool political maneuvers. It is no surprise that all three are nominated for Oscars (with seven additional nods, including Best Film). “I wholeheartedly believe that The Favourite deserves an Oscar,” said Emma S. ’19. “If there was an Oscar for dancing, I think that the ballroom dance scene would win.” The supporting cast was also quite good; I particularly enjoyed Nicholas Hoult as Lord Robert Harley, a snide politician fond of star-shaped beauty marks and a fountain-like wig who seeks to conspire with Abigail.

The Favourite is not for the faint of heart, but it is a fascinating and moving story. Anne, Sarah, and Abigail are wickedly funny, heartbreakingly scarred, and wonderfully intricate; their story, whether factual or not, is worth seeing.