The Favourite – A Witty, Wicked, Wondrous, Very Naughty Romp

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The Favourite is an English movie glorious to look at, full of energy, some blasphemy and plenty of intrigue. It is a witty, wicked, very naughty adult post restoration romp,

It has a great script and outstanding performances by a carefully selected ensemble cast, led by the actress who is a modern-day Queen of them all, Olivia Coleman.

The Favourite Court

The Favourite: ensemble cast, courtesy Fox Searchlight

People sensationally costumed storm dramatically down perfectly panelled period corridors and along gilded enfilades. They pose perfectly in a terrorizing tableau, in what is a very punk, well-heeled drama with a comedic touch.

Facts tell us by the turn of the eighteenth-century, England was largely under populated at 5-6 Million, with only 70,000 in London, which was the largest city in Europe.  Provincial towns were extremely small and so the ramifications of an upper-class structure on a country of this size was infinite.

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Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne in The Favourite: courtesy Fox Searchlight

The morning levee (a dressing ceremony) practiced by those of noble blood, had been instituted by King Louis XIV (1638-1714) at Versailles, becoming an integral aspect of the traditions associated with an established noble’s way of life all over Europe and in England.

The original script of The Favourite, by Deborah Davis and Tom McNamara is about the period when Queen Anne’s bestie Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) having been her friend since childhood, was mainly in control of the Queen (Olivia Coleman).

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Emma Stone as Abigail, in The Favourite: courtesy Fox Searchlight

Director Yorgos Lanthimos showcases Sarah lording her ascendancy over Anne through intimidation and, by using her sexual prowess. That is until her down at heel cousin Abigail, Baroness Masham (Emma Stone), arrives at court.

Abigail is seeking employment in the Queen’s household and after discovering a huge secret about the Queen and Sarah’s relationship decides she wants to replace her cousin in the Queen’s affections.

What a lark it is – truly one of my top ten movies of recent times.

Don’t Read Any More if You Don’t Want a Few Spoilers

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Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne with Rachel Weisz as Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough in The Favourite: courtesy Fox Searchlight

Queen Anne, Sarah and Abigail are a truly obscene sexually manipulating trio, who all suffer from mother issues big time. As presented here, they would be a challenge for any psychologist today.

Keeping the naughty noble boys who surrounded her at court in line was an unenviable task for England’s Queen Anne (1665-1714), for at this time, while decorous on the outside, they were more than often very wicked on the inside, as well as very, very entitled.

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A bevvy of beautiful,  but very naughty boys at court in The Favourite: courtesy Fox Searchlight

The costuming alone of this period drama is a powerhouse of detail worthy of an award. It’s a time when men powdered their huge wigs gloriously, painted their faces with white lead, rouged their cheeks and coloured their lips, all the better to be seen by candlelight.

They brought to the fashionable costume scene a very much shorter frock coat, pleated and flared at the back to be worn with a fancy waistcoat and plain breeches, and some even carried pretty nosegays.

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Rachel Weisz front and centre as Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough with Emma Stone as Abigail in The Favourite: courtesy Fox Searchlight

The men left the women at court floundering in their wake, at least in terms of glamour for they wore this new style of costume very prettily indeed, as did The Favourite, who dressed often as a man.

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Nicholas Hoult as Harley, in The Favourite: courtesy Fox Searchlight

Gutsy, outrageous, sometimes vicious and very very naughty, they were a dissolute lot according to this telling of the tale. Some men, like Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult) who has influence with the Queen, also painted symbols on their cheeks, sending silent messages to those within their circle.

One scene where a servant strips off all his clothes and hovers against a folding screen trying to desperately protect the private part of his anatomy with his hands, while his Lord, friends and followers pelt him with oranges certainly grabs attention.

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It confirms our suspicions many of the men at the court of Queen Anne were idle scions of wealthy families determined to convey, through their bizarre dress and behaviour, a complete contempt for conservatism and a total rejection of ideas of ‘good taste’.

They proved endlessly, they desperately wanted to see and be seen!

Gossip thrived at the top echelons of society and Gout was one of the horrible afflictions of the day.

Queen Anne and her son William, Duke of Gloucester

Queen Anne and her son William, Duke of Gloucester

When we meet Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) in The Favourite, we discover by the time this period drama is set, she had already lost her husband (he died in 1708) after giving birth to eighteen babies in sixteen years, producing only five living children all of whom died in infancy.

Her plight must have been both devastating and distressing for the Queen, her late husband Prince George of Denmark, and it is these facts, which allow women of today in particular, to empathize with her extreme periods of loneliness and depression.

Renowned for being kind and warm-hearted as well as politically shrewd, she was or all accounts, a woman of great intelligence, although very unhealthy. Queen Anne was the daughter of King James II (1633-1701) and last Stuart monarch of England, inheriting a country imbued with a sense of power and wealth.

Emma Stone in The Favourite, Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Emma Stone in The Favourite, Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

She reacted unexpectedly in 1702, when given the news of her accession to the English throne. At a complete loss for words she fell back on the usual English opening gambit of the weather. Looking out of a window she remarked “It is a fine day” to which Bishop Burnett responded. “the finest day that ever dawned for England ma’am”.

At her coronation on St. George’s day 23rd April 1702, dear Anne was suffering so badly from the gout she had to be carried in a chair, unable to stand on her own two feet.

Marriage a la Mode by William Hogarth courtesy National Gallery, London

Marriage a la Mode by William Hogarth, courtesy National Gallery, London – note Milord’s gouty foot

Often known as ‘the disease of kings and king of diseases’ artist- caricaturists like William Hogarth, George Cruikshank and James Gillray in England took special pleasure in portraying the squirearchy of the eighteenth century as ‘universally debauched, periwigged and gouty’.

Women rarely contracted it and if they did, it was mostly after menopause. Considered at the time, comparable only to the agony of childbirth, sufferers complained having gout was like being jabbed with a ‘million tiny white-hot needles.’

John Churchill by Godfrey Kneller c1700

John Churchill by Godfrey Kneller c1700

For the first half of Queen Anne’s reign (1702-1714), the policies of the Whigs were dominant, with one of her favourite men, the Duke of Marlborough’s glorious victories on the continent, setting off a wave of nationalistic pride.  She gave him Blenheim Palace to reward him. This helped bring his intelligent wife Sarah, her Lady of the Bedchamber, to the fore.  Anne’s prime confidante. They were well known for affectionately calling each other Mrs. Morley (Anne) and Mrs. Freeman (Sarah) in written correspondence.

Theirs was an intimate relationship, which not only caused a scandal in their time, but also would more than likely cause one in ours today.

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Rachel Wiesz as Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne, in The Favourite, courtesy Fox Searchlight

When Anne and Sarah’s final falling out happened after some fifteen years of close friendship, while of great relief to many at court, the loss must have meant darkness for Anne towards the end of her life.

She was carried to her funeral in a nearly square coffin, so vast had she become, burdened by so much pain and grief.


Emma Stone as Abigal in The Favourite, courtesy Fox Searchlight

The Favourite is entirely unique, about a little known time in history when society is undergoing great change. Only those who could adapt quickly, survived.

It is a movie for you to see and be seen to see!


Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018

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