Films on royalty and historical figures have been reaping awards for years, but particularly so in recent memory. The Queen, The King’s Speech, Elizabeth, are just a few motion pictures focused on British royals that have either delivered at the box office, won several awards, or both. Even so, when writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara wrote a screenplay centered around the life of a more considerable obscure British monarch, there was no guarantee that it would result in a hit. But the risk was taken and now, we have The Favourite.
It is 1708 and Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is ruler of Britain. Sickly and largely confined to a chair, Anne has given her confidante and friend Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), the authority to effectively govern in her place. Anne is lonely after 17 miscarriages and the loss of her husband, and Sarah is always brutally honest with her to the point of being hurtful.
When Sarah’s destitute cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) seeks employment with her and the Queen, Abigail is ordered to be a lowly scullery maid. Abigail’s father had gambled away their family’s earnings and even his daughter was given off as payment for his debts. Seeing Queen Anne’s many aches and pains, Abigail uses herbs to alleviate pain in her legs, something that enrages Sarah. Anne, however, appreciates the gesture and makes Abigail her lady of the bedchamber.
With Sarah managing the war on France on Anne’s behalf, parliament member Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult) is fighting Sarah’s efforts to double the taxes to finance the war effort. Harley tries to use Abigail as a spy for his benefit, but she soon enters into a sexual relationship with the Queen just as Sarah previously did. Abigail’s influence soon grows, something that Sarah finds very threatening. Both cousins soon find themselves each trying to curry favor with Anne, and there are seemingly no depths to how low they can go to eliminate the other.
Twenty years after director Shekhar Kapur introduced the world to CateBlanchett as Elizabeth I in Elizabeth,Yorgos Lanthinos takes on the challenge of bringing the story of an even moreobscure monarch to the big screen. Colman is largely known for her work on television through Broadchurch and Doctor
Both Stone and Weisz capture the scheming, dueling, manipulative nature of two women trying to earn the favor of the most powerful woman in the world. Both know that Anne is their meal ticket and realize that her rival is aiming high. Stone’s Abigail in particular, embodies the old axiom that “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” as Anne’s trust in her increases. Weisz’s Sarah can be a cold politician who doesn’t hide her disdain for Anne’s make-up and idiosyncracies yet also seems to honestly care for her. The acting nominations for both as Best Supporting Actress at the British Academy Film Awards are well-deserved, as are the other awards that the film has been nominated for at several award-giving bodies.
Queen Anne is a monarch that is largely forgotten worldwide, perhaps due to her physical weakness, the shortness of her 12-year reign, or Sarah Churchill ruling in her name, thus this story of two of her court favorites battling for her endorsement is eye-opening. Although there are several comedic moments, it is still largely a historical drama, and the final fate of the Queen is also thought-provoking and tragic.