Last week I went to the cinema with my mum and sister. We had been looking forward to seeing the much-anticipated historical film The Favourite. I’m a real film buff, I love a cinema trip. The whole experience with the big, comfy, adjustable seats and the surround sound brings me joy. Even if I don’t particularly enjoy the film, I don’t mind.
I don’t normally review films on my blog but this one was such a head-scratcher that I felt the need to discuss it. I’ll try very hard not to include any spoilers in case anyone is planning to see it. If you have already seen it you might be questioning my choice of companions on this occasion and quite rightly so. In my defence I had no idea of the nature of this particular film, which will become evident later.
So the film is based around the later life of Queen Anne, daughter of James II and the last of the Stuart monarchs. Although generally thought of as a fair and just ruler, Anne was unfortunately plagued with ill-health and may have been more than a touch mad. The title of the film alludes to the two women in Anne’s life who are embroiled in an unladylike war with each other for her favour. I was expecting a period drama with beautiful costumes and elaborate palaces and, to some extent, this is what I got but both the storyline and the settings were rather more gritty than I was prepared for.
The palace is dark and oppressive, think dark wood panelling and elaborate tapestries covering all the walls. Lit only by candlelight, it is an unforgiving and seemingly dangerous environment. We meet the Queen in her vast sleeping quarters, crippled by gout and unable to govern effectively as her health declines. Bored to distraction, she spends her time stuffing her face with cake until she is sick and petting her ‘babies’, the domestic rabbits she keeps for company in her bedchamber. Anne’s constant human companion and trusted advisor Sarah is a childhood friend whom Anne had remained close to all her life, despite the disapproval of her family. Anne is so enamoured of her friend that she even commissioned Blenheim Palace to be built for her to live in with her husband. Sarah is a strong, career driven woman who happily takes over most of the royal duties, but is also devoted to keeping her Queen happy. After the death of Anne’s husband George, this also includes Sarah satisfying the royal carnal appetite, which Sarah is seemingly willing to fulfil. At this point I should mention that the film is really quite rude, which is why I was mortified to be sandwiched in-between my mum and my sister. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude, I simply wasn’t expecting such strong sex scenes and I was squirming slightly. No one wants to be in the same room as their mum when two people are getting it on!
The overall feel of the film is one of debauchery and excess, which I suppose is probably accurate of the time. Members of the court creep along the dimly lit corridors in the dead of night, entering bed chambers willy nilly and no one seems to bat an eyelid. By contrast the political members are seen as a bit of a joke and are routinely humiliated by their peers. Again, nothing new there. We see the Queen being ridiculed by Sarah for her choice of make-up in a scene which really brings home the vulnerability of Anne and the trust she has in her friend. Indeed, theirs is a mutually beneficial relationship, with both parties gaining much from it. Then along comes Abigail Hill, the younger cousin of Sarah, who arrives at the palace seeking employment after her father loses all their money to his gambling habit. Enjoying the power she can wield over her impoverished relative, Sarah bestows a lowly position as a scullery maid on Abigail but she seriously underestimates the savvy of this beautiful young woman who is seeking a much higher position in court. Abigail immediately begins to find ways to ingratiate herself with the Queen and this doesn’t go down well with Sarah, who finds herself being unceremoniously usurped as the Queens favourite. This triggers a truly gut-wrenching series of events as the two women fight for Anne’s attentions, leading to some very unpleasant consequences for them both.
All this is going on against the backdrop of political unrest and war. On several instances throughout the film the audience is subjected to an eerie noise (it can’t be called music) like a cello being viciously plucked which gets louder and more ominous until it drowns out the dialogue. I found this disturbing and eventually irritating as it distracted me from the plot somewhat. I guess it was meant to signify a feeling of impending doom amongst the subjects but I have honestly never experienced anything like it during a film. The director of the film, Yorgos Lanthimos (no, me neither) is also a fan of using a wide-angle lens which gave me the feeling of watching from behind a fish bowl and also gave me a headache. Maybe he intended for his audience to feel physically uncomfortable like his characters during the film! If he did, it worked.
The film is divided into chapters, each with intriguing titles, and the final chapter was predictably cryptic. As the screen went blank, the whole audience at our showing remained deathly silent, no doubt as bewildered as I was. I honestly felt like I had been clubbed over the head several times and as I uprighted my chair I could not have told you whether I had enjoyed the film or not. This still puzzles me now. On the one hand, the acting was superb. Olivia Coleman was deliciously self-indulgent as the Queen and Rachel Weisz was gorgeous as the complex and scheming Sarah but I can’t pretend I understood it one tiny bit. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to. Perhaps we are supposed to draw our own conclusions about what it all meant. However, as the rest of the audience filed silently out of the cinema, there was a joyous moment when my mum, who had been staring intently at the screen throughout as if in a hypnotic trance, looked at me and said, and I quote, “I think she might have had a stroke at the end”, at which point my sister and I erupted into hysterical laughter. For a good five minutes we couldn’t speak and tears ran down our faces. My mum simply looked at us until the penny dropped and declared that she was not coming out with us ever again!
All-in-all, and for various reasons, it was a pretty good evening, not necessarily because of the film, but if you do intend to go and see it, please don’t go with your mum!
Thanks for reading. xx