The Favourite

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!

Can You Ever Forgive Me

“Can You Ever Forgive Me” stars Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, a barely functioning alcoholic whose life starts to go out of control when she loses her job.

Israel is a far from sympathetic character, she’s rude to her colleagues which is why she lost her job, rude to her literary agent which is why she can’t get any work, and was horrible to her ex-partner which is why she is alone and friendless.

Running off the back of a couple of marginally well-received biographies (“I was on the New York Times best seller list, surely that has to count for something?” she moans at her agent) Israel is sure that her new idea of an autobiography on vaudeville actress Fanny Brice is the solution to all her woes. The problem is, this is the early 1990s and no one in interested in biographies, let alone Fanny Brice.

Undaunted, Israel starts her research and it’s while looking through books in a library she comes across some personal letters from Brice herself tucked into the back of one of the books. Israel decides to keep the letters – presumably because she thinks they will add value to her book if she has some personal correspondence that no-one else has – and this sets her on a slippery path to becoming one of the most prolific letter forgers of the 20th Century – with some of her forgeries still in circulation as the real thing even today.

With this being a Melissa McCarthy film, you might think that this is a light-hearted caper movie along the lines of Identity Thief – it’s not. It’s a hard-hitting, no-holds barred look at a very unlikeable character who is horrible to those around her and whose only true friend – her cat Jersey – doesn’t really like her either.

Even by the end of the film, you really don’t feel sorry for Israel’s character – I personally thought that she should have got a harsher sentence considering the lack of remorse she showed over her crimes – she was proud of the fact she was so good at her forging “job” but being banned from almost every library in the US meant she couldn’t carry on her trade as either master forger or serious biographer.

The film is, obviously, centred around Israel but there is quite a strong supporting cast. The excellent Jane Curtin stars as Israel’s put-upon agent; Dolly Wells as Anna, a bookstore owner who starts off as one of Israel’s marks but a friendship starts to bloom in a “will they, won’t they” sort of way which is quite sweet; and Richard E. Grant as Jack Hock (with a Big Cock – his catchphrase, I don’t know from personal experience) a fellow drunkard who Israel is able to tolerate presumably because it’s a novelty to find someone more miserable and untruthful than herself.

Richard E. Grant’s portrayal of Hock has garnered him several award nominations (Golden Globe, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild no less) and while it was a good performance (I did shed a tear in the last scene he shared with McCartney’s Israel), I was left thinking it was merely a very toned-down version of Withnail (of Withnail & I). There’s the excessive drinking, lewdness and drug taking – in fact the only difference is that you can understand what he’s saying in this film where as he’s a bit too off his face and ranty in Withnail & I.

That being said, while it’s not a new performance from Grant, it is a good one and the on-screen chemistry between Hock and Israel is excellent. Apparently, the role of Israel was originally to be played by Julianne Moore and I’m glad she dropped out. While not an exact look-a-like, McCarthy encompasses the essence of the character – essentially a nasty drunk woman – and I think Moore would have been far too glamorous for the role.

While I don’t think it’s necessarily an Oscar winning performance, it was nice to see McCarthy in a serious role where she’s actually showing her acting ability rather than just being a shouty angry woman. That being said, I’m afraid that I will forever hold McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live’s Sean Spicer in my heart as her best role – it’s a shame he left the White House as quickly as he did – imagine the fun Melissa could have had with him!

Watch this film if you’re looking for some semi-factual cinema and are feeling a bit tetchy (bring a hanky for use towards the end of the film though).

This film has interested me in the subject matter that much I have ordered Lee Israel’s autobiography from Amazon – if you feel like doing the same then you can choose one of the options below. It won’t cost you any extra but I’ll get a small affiliate commission.

Vice

It’s usually hard to get the balance right in films about politics; there are a lot of facts that you need to get across to the public, situations that need to be covered without the necessary time for a full backstory and, more often than not, a large cast of characters that need to be portrayed fairly and accurately.

When you think of political films, you might think of Michael Moore’s documentaries that rely on his personality to get the facts across or perhaps All The President’s Men which is quite a heavy-going film and relies heavily on the casting of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman to keep audiences engaged. When I first saw the trailer for Vice, I was intrigued as I wondered how they would manage to tell the story of Vice President Dick Cheney when the cast of surrounding characters (George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld etc.) are so well known and Cheney was more of the quiet man in the background.

Christian Bale stars as Dick Cheney, part of American Politics “Royal Family”. Cheney’s life started out on a rocky path after being kicked out of Yale for partying too hard, receiving two DUIs in quick succession and generally going off the rails. It took a stern talking to from then girlfriend (and later wife) Lynne to get him back on the straight and narrow and out of his dead-end job as a powerline fitter and into the world of politics.

What I found surprising was the sheer length of time Cheney had been involved in politics in and around the White House. I had assumed that he’d just been brought in to George W. Bush’s team because of this business experience and Bush’s fondness for cow-towing to big industry. It turns out that Cheney’s start in politics dates right the way back to the Nixon administration (and if that doesn’t speak volumes then I don’t know what will!)

Far from being a dry retelling of his rise to immense power, this story is an engaging and often amusing look and the inner workings of the American political system and how it can be manipulated if someone wants to abuse that system and gain ultimate power.

Bale, to me, is one of those performers who is either excellent (The Machinist for example) or terrible (Terminator Salvation) and I’m happy to report that he’s outstanding in his portrayal of Cheney – both in terms of physicality and his voice. Also outstanding are Amy Adams as Cheney’s wife Lynne who is as ambitious as Dick (if not more so) and Steve Carrell as Donald Rumsfeld and all 3 deserve Oscar nominations for their performances. If there’s one weak link in the Cheney (ha!) that’s got to be Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush.

Rockwell just doesn’t seem to capture the mannerisms of Bush, the only physical nod to him is the hairstyle and he doesn’t even attempt to imitate Bush’s way of speaking – I have to wonder why he was chosen for this part when everyone else is so very close to the characters they are portraying and it’s just like he’s showed up and gone “Oh, okay, I can be myself then”.

The story is weaved together through a series of important events – Nixon resigning, Ford losing the election, Regan getting elected, 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq – and these are explained and narrated by an unnamed man who says that he’s “sort of related to Cheney but I’ll explain that later”.

If you’re not American, you don’t need to worry that you won’t understand the political goings on as our narrator explains the complex points with the incredulity that you’ll feel yourself once you realise what Cheney and his cohorts did once he got into the White House.

He’s been described as “The most powerful Vice President in history” and, if the events of this film are as they are portrayed, I’d go even further to say he’s probably the most powerful American politician in history.

I’d like to think that everything that Cheney did was for the good of the people however this film does make me question his motivations – especially given his links to Halliburton. Perhaps a revisiting of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” is in order after viewing this.

I’ve given this film 9/10 and it’s certainly well deserved. It may even have gotten a 10 if Sam Rockwell hadn’t let the side down and if Steve Carell’s Rumsfeld had recreated the “Known Unknown” speech.

Watch this film if you’re fed up of all of the arguments over Brexit and want to realise how lucky we are in the UK to have the political system we do.