Well, this is a bit of an odd film! Part court drama, part politics of early 1700s England, part love story and part Machiavellian tale.
The Favourite centres around the court of Queen Anne, who was queen of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1702 to 1707 and Queen of England and Scotland until she died in 1714.
I have to admit, Anne is not a Queen we really covered in history class, and you don’t really see that many documentaries about her as she tends to be overshadowed by our more glamorous Queens – most notably Elizabeth I. Anne became Queen on the death of William III of Orange – the route of succession came to her thanks to James II being overthrown and Anne’s sister, Mary (married to William) having no children.
Anne cuts a very lonely figure: her husband George died in 1708 and she’s troubled by gout which leaves her bed-ridden or unable to walk most of the time, as a result much of the day-to-day running of the Court is left to her lady in waiting, Lady Marlborough – or Sarah Churchill to give her civvy name (yes, that Churchill family).
Throughout the film is difficult to tell who Sarah (Rachel Weisz) is actually serving; is she helping an ailing Queen keep hold of her throne? Is she making sure her own position at court is safe? Is she trying to give her husband fame, fortune and glory in his war in Spain? Is she doing this for the good of the country because the Queen is incompetent? Who knows as Sarah’s motivation is never overtly stated, which I think is a refreshing take on a film of this nature. Usually it’s pretty clear who you should be rooting for but the arrival of Abigail (Emma Stone), Sarah’s downtrodden cousin, muddies the waters quite a bit.
At first we’re left feeling sorry for Abigail – she was lost by her father to a fat German in a card game after all – but as the film progresses and Abigail starts playing Sarah at her own game in order to gain the Queen’s affections and ear, and as a result any sympathy originally felt starts to wear off.
The film is written in a way to make it accessible to modern audiences – there’s no flowery language but there is a prodigious amount of swearing (which makes me surprised at the 15 certificate). While using period-style dress (even if some of it is denim) it feels contemporary, and it’s shot very well, however there’s occasional use of a fish-eye lens which I found quite jarring. I think this is due to shooting on location at Hatfield House and Hampton Court Palace – obviously you can’t knock walls down in order to get a wide angle shot, however these fisheye views are at odds with the way the rest of the film is shot – if they were black and white they would look almost like CCTV footage and I feel they could have been left out with no loss to the plot.
Another bug-bear I have are the captions between scenes. They contain an out-of-context quote which, while amusing, are formatted in such a way to make them almost unreadable. Maybe it’s the print designer in me but I’m afraid have the word “I” alone on its own line just really irks me (and don’t get me started on the end credit formatting – someone went rather mad with text-justification).
Two standouts for me (excluding the performances) were the music and lighting. The film is lit pretty much by natural light during the day and candles at night and it gives the film a fantastic warm quality and really makes you feel as though you are being drawn into the dark hallways with the actors or are there in the rooms of the Palace.
The music is brilliant, it’s amazing how much tension can be created with a single string of an instrument, you can almost feel the heart rates of the characters increasing with the music as the anxiety rises.
Performance wise, what I can say? Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne is pathetic and yet harsh, needy and yet aloof and to see her towards the end of the film as an almost broken and still powerful queen was a masterful performance.
Rachel Weisz perfectly balances the role of master and servant – it’s hard to tell who is the real Queen sometimes and Emma Stone’s Abigail oozes naivety at first but you can see that there’s always something going on behind those eyes and I’m pleased to say her English accent holds up pretty well too.
I gave this film 7 out of 10. While it is good, I felt we could have seen a little more of Queen Anne – firstly because Colman is a fantastic actress and secondly because we could have done with a bit more background without me having to spend a few hours reading up on her – was she really useless and just a puppet? Was she just in the complete thrall of her lover(s)? Also, a point was docked for the crappy formatting of the intertitles and credits – call me petty but sometimes it’s the only way people learn!
I usually would give you a piece of “watch this when…” advice at this point however I think the following warning is in order: Don’t watch this film with your Granny or parents unless they’re super cool, there’s far too much lady sexy times and C-words if they’re not and you’ll just end up feeling rather awkward and uncomfortable!