This month sees the UK release of the long-awaited film The Favourite, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos which I have just been to see in order to report my opinions back to History of Royal Women readers!
The film focuses on the court of Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702-1714 and is a rather overlooked monarch, largely unknown to the general public. It is refreshing to see such a mainstream film about a late Stuart ruler and not another re-hash of the same old Tudor or Victorian era productions.
The film veered away from the well-worn format of an average period drama, boldly dipping into other genres such as dark comedy but without detracting from the storyline. The music choices, costumes and editing styles were all bold and original making for a refreshing and captivating film which I personally enjoyed.
I do have to say though, as a historian, there are many elements of the film which could have been approached differently to offer a more well-rounded representation of Queen Anne herself. Rather than an able sovereign, who oversaw the creation of the Act of Settlement and the birth of Great Britain amongst numerous other huge changes, we are shown a feeble-minded dithering woman who appears to have little common sense. In recent years as more research has been done on Anne, historians are praising her achievements and noting that in the past “the Queen herself received little credit for many achievements and has long been depicted as a weak and ineffectual monarch, dominated by her advisers” (Edward Gregg). It is a shame that this new film has erased these findings and portrayed Queen Anne in a rather outdated fashion and not given us a realistic image of the Queen but a caricature.
The main storyline follows the stories of Sarah Churchill and Abigail Masham as they compete for the favour of the queen and over the role of keeper of the Privy Purse. These events are true to life but obviously aided by a little dramatic flair for the purpose of the film which makes the film humorous and entertaining to watch. In the film, it is clear that the Queen is nearing the end of her life and appears to be completely controlled by the two women in all aspects of her reign and personal life. Of course, the real Queen Anne was swayed by the will of her favourites, as many monarchs were, but the film lets the real Queen Anne down by showing her to be completely under the control of Sarah and Abigail and giving her no sense of agency or ability.
The film itself is a fantastic piece of cinema; it is both innovative and stunning and is definitely worth watching. The cast members only serve to make a visually impressive film even better, with Olivia Colman playing Queen Anne supported by Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz all giving amazing performances. As a film in its own right I couldn’t really fault it, but as a historical portrayal of Queen Anne, I think there could have been a lot more done. It was good to see the filmmakers broach the subject of Anne’s long-suspected lesbianism, but then other key things such as Anne’s husband or her involvement in the Glorious Revolution went completely unmentioned which is a shame.
It is brilliant to finally see a high-budget, well-made film about Queen Anne on the big screen and I would recommend you watch it but just take the historical details and portrayals with a large pinch of salt!