The Favourite is a 2018 historical period black comedy drama film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. It is a co-production by producers in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Set in early 18th century England, the story examines the relationship between two cousins vying to be court favourites of Queen Anne. It stars Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, and Joe Alwyn. Filming took place at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, and at Hampton Court Palace in Hampton Court, Surrey, between March and May 2017.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Yorgos Lanthimos|
|Edited by||Yorgos Mavropsaridis|
|Distributed by||Fox Searchlight Pictures|
|Box office||$78 million|
It had its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival on 30 August 2018, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and the Volpi Cup for Best Actress (for Colman). It was released in the United States on 23 November 2018 by Fox Searchlight Pictures, and in the United Kingdom and Ireland on 1 January 2019. The film became a critical and commercial success, grossing $78 million on a $15 million budget, and was praised for its screenplay, direction, acting (particularly by Colman, Stone and Weisz), cinematography, music, costume design, and production values.
The Favourite received multiple awards and nominations. It won a leading seven awards at the 72nd British Academy Film Awards, including Best British Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress in a Leading Role (for Colman) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (for Weisz), from a leading twelve nominations. It was also nominated for ten Oscars at the 91st Academy Awards, including Best Picture, tying with Roma for most nominations. Among other accolades, the film won a Golden Globe Award and ten British Independent Film Awards.
In 1708, Britain is at war with France, and Queen Anne sits on the throne. In frail health, Anne shows little interest in governing, instead preferring eccentric activities such as racing ducks and playing with her 17 rabbits, each of which represents a child she has lost over the years. Her confidante, adviser, and furtive lover Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, effectively rules the country through her influence on the Queen. Sarah's efforts to control Anne are undermined by Robert Harley, a Tory Member of Parliament who, as a landowner, argues against a doubling of property taxes proposed in order to fund the war.
Meanwhile, Abigail Hill, Sarah's impoverished younger cousin, arrives at Court in search of employment. Abigail's standing is tainted by her father, who gambled away his good name and lost his daughter to a German in a card game. Abigail is initially forced to do menial work as a scullery maid in the palace, but, after seeing the Queen's condition, she spies an opportunity to ingratiate herself with Sarah and, eventually, Queen Anne herself: she forages for herbs to heal the Queen's inflamed legs, and though she is initially punished by Sarah for her presumptuous actions, Sarah relents when she realises the remedy does ease the Queen's suffering. In gratitude, Sarah makes Abigail her lady of the bedchamber.
Harley soon approaches Abigail, hoping to use her as a spy in order to find out what Sarah's schemes are and figure out a way to circumvent her authority. Abigail initially rebuffs him, but soon she becomes aware of the secret lesbian relationship between Anne and Sarah. As she is fascinated by the Queen's scandalous homosexual inclination, Abigail begins to court the Queen's favour herself.
With Sarah focused on the war effort, Abigail kindles a friendship with Anne, which soon becomes sexual. Sarah becomes aware of Abigail's machinations and attempts to have her sent away. Abigail drugs Sarah's tea, causing her to fall from her horse and be dragged into the forest. She vanishes for several days. Anne, thinking that Sarah has temporarily abandoned her to make her jealous, takes Abigail into her favour, where her first reward is to be allowed to accept a proposal of marriage from Samuel Masham, a baron in Anne's court. The marriage reinstates Abigail's noble standing as a baroness.
A battered and scarred Sarah awakens in a brothel. When she returns to court, she issues an ultimatum to Anne: send Abigail away, or she will disclose her correspondence with Anne that details their sexual relationship. The threat destroys the relationship between Anne and Sarah. Although Sarah voluntarily burns the letters in regret, she is stripped of her offices and sent away from court. When Abigail, now promoted to Keeper of the Privy Purse, presents what she claims to be evidence that Sarah has been embezzling money, Sarah and her husband are exiled from Britain. Abigail comes to realise the Queen now detests her for breaking her heart over Sarah.
Soon after Abigail's victory, her ego and gluttonous appetite for luxury start to inflate in the same way Sarah's had. One day while lounging in the Queen's chamber, Abigail deliberately treads on one of Anne's rabbits. Suspecting mischief in Abigail's true nature, Anne promptly responds to this abuse by grabbing Abigail's hair and ordering her to massage her legs as if she were a servant.
- Olivia Colman as Anne, Queen of Great Britain
- Emma Stone as Abigail Masham, Baroness Masham
- Rachel Weisz as Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough
- Nicholas Hoult as Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer
- Joe Alwyn as Samuel Masham, 1st Baron Masham
- Mark Gatiss as John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough
- James Smith as Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin
- Jenny Rainsford as Mae
Writing and developmentEdit
Deborah Davis had written the script for The Favourite as early as 1998, which she had then titled The Balance of Power. Davis admitted to having had little knowledge of the Queen and her relationships with Sarah and Abigail: "I knew nothing about Queen Anne and I knew nothing about this relationship. So, I set myself the task of finding out about Sarah and Queen Anne and very quickly stumbled on the story about women in power and a female triangle." Davis subsequently compiled and studied the letters written by Queen Anne, Sarah, and Abigail:
I did a lot of research and as it turns out, there is a wealth of original sources. You have historical accounts of the period. One of the best sources is Winston Churchill who wrote the story about his ancestor who was the Duke of Marlborough and he covers the female triangle and the relationship between Anne, Sarah and Abigail in his four-part biography. There are enormous amounts of sources out there. Another one was, of course, Sarah’s memoir where she wrote about how she was replaced in the Queen’s favour by Abigail and how Abigail had become the absolute favourite.
Regarding the process of getting the film produced, Davis said, "I wrote the first draft in 1998 and I had no experience in scriptwriting. I took myself to night school to learn. I took that first draft to Ceci Dempsey and she was very interested in it [...] She had never ever wavered in her support and passion for this project."
Producer Ceci Dempsey possessed an early draft of the script and found herself "haunted" by "the passion, the survival instincts of these women, the manipulations and what they did to survive". However, Dempsey had difficulty securing financing at the time, due to the lesbian content, as well as the lack of male representation, which financers felt would be challenging to market. Almost a decade later, producer Ed Guiney got hold of the script and was similarly attracted to the complicated plot and relationships of the three women. "We didn't want to make just another British costume drama", he stated, "[we wanted] a story that felt contemporary and relevant and vibrant — not something out of a museum".
During this time, Guiney became acquainted with Yorgos Lanthimos, whose film Dogtooth (2009) had received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and approached him with the prospect of directing the film. Lanthimos immediately became intrigued with the idea that “[t]hese three women possessed power that affected the lives of millions” and at the same time found the story to be “intimate” as well. Lanthimos then began working closely with screenwriter Tony McNamara on “freshening up” the script. By 2013, the producers were receiving financing offers from several companies, including Film4 Productions and Waypoint Entertainment, which eventually worked on the film.
In September 2015, it was announced that Lanthimos would direct the film from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara's screenplay, which was described as "a bawdy, acerbic tale of royal intrigue, passion, envy, and betrayal". Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday and Andrew Lowe served as producers under their Scarlet Films and Element Pictures banners, respectively.
This is the first film Lanthimos directed in which neither he nor his frequent collaborator Efthymis Filippou serve as screenwriters, but Lanthimos was nonetheless attracted to Davis' and McNamara's script and "became acquainted with the three female characters who happened to be real people. I felt that it was an interesting story in its own right, but you also have the opportunity to create three complex female characters which is something you rarely see". Of her working relationship with Lanthimos, Dempsey said:
He has a very particular, contained view. And he reserves it and conserves it, deliberately. He’s very intuitive on every level. Casting, yes. Even hiring the department, it’s all the same process [...] You’re not going to talk him into anything ever, ever, ever, ever. Once you accept that, you have to intuit or inhale what he wants, but he’s got a very particular contained view and you just need to go with it.
On the film's lesbian-centric love triangle, Lanthimos said: "My instinct from the beginning was that I didn't want this to become an issue in the film, for us, like we're trying to make a point out of it [...] I didn't even want the characters in the film to be making an issue of it. I just wanted to deal with these three women as human beings. It didn't matter that there were relationships of the same gender. I stopped thinking about that very early on in the process." He also elaborated on the "positive" effect the Me Too movement has had on the film: "Because of the prevalent male gaze in cinema, women are portrayed as housewives, girlfriends… Our small contribution is we're just trying to show them as complex and wonderful and horrific as they are, like other human beings."
In September 2015, it was announced that Emma Stone, Olivia Colman and Kate Winslet had been cast in the film, portraying Abigail Masham, Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill, respectively. By October 2015, Rachel Weisz had replaced Winslet. The Favourite is the second collaboration between Lanthimos, Colman and Weisz: both actors appeared in Lanthimos' The Lobster (2015). In February 2017, Nicholas Hoult joined the cast of the film, followed by Joe Alwyn, in March 2017. On 8 August 2018, Mark Gatiss, James Smith and Jenny Rainsford were announced as part of the cast.
Casting was crucial for Lanthimos, who describes his process as "instinctive": "It's one of those things when you feel you're right and you need to insist no matter what." Colman was his first and only choice for Queen Anne and she readily accepted, despite having already portrayed the Queen Mother in Hyde Park on Hudson (2012) and Queen Elizabeth II in the third and fourth seasons of The Crown. After Winslet left the project, Lanthimos had offered the role to Cate Blanchett, who declined. Lanthimos asked that Stone—whom he knew only from the comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)—work with a dialect coach. "It was making sure that we would be able to work creatively free without the accent being a hindrance in the way that we wanted to work," Lanthimos said.
Colman said she found that playing Anne was "a joy because she sort of feels everything". When asked if the character was nothing more than a petulant child, she responded, "she's just a woman who is underconfident and doesn't know if anyone genuinely loves her. She has too much power, too much time on her hands". Colman said that the difference between Anne and the previous queens she has played was that "the other queens didn't get to fall in love with two hot women." Weisz described the film as a comedy, comparing it to a "funnier, sex driven" All About Eve and was primarily attracted to the project due to the prominent female leads, considering her role to be “the juiciest” of her career. Stone was initially hesitant to accept the role, at first thinking Abigail was "a sweet kind of girl, the victim, a servant to these people," but changed her mind after reading the script and ended up "begging" Lanthimos to be cast. Stone’s greatest concern was mastering her accent: "It's 1705, which was about 300 years before any period I had ever done. It was pretty daunting on a few levels—having to be British and not stick out like a sore thumb."
–Critic Joshua Rothkopf's analysis of the gender dynamics in the film
Despite having less dynamic roles, Hoult and Alwyn were nonetheless intrigued to be a part of a film dominated by three complex leading female characters. "It’s obviously very timely to have three female leads, and it’s wonderful to see because it’s so rare," said Hoult, adding, "The dynamic between the characters they play is so wonderful because it’s so intricate and difficult to understand exactly who’s wanting what from this love-power struggle, and it’s just wonderful to watch and see." Alwyn shared similar views: "It’s unusual, I suppose, to have a film led by three women, and these three women are so unbelievably talented and generous as performers and also as people, and to spend time with them and be on set with them and everyone else was just a lot of fun. I was just happy to be a part of it at all. It’s rare to get a film like this to come along that is so different from what we’re used to seeing, especially with a director like this, so to be any part in it was brilliant."
Prior to filming, Lanthimos engaged the principal actors in an unorthodox rehearsal process that lasted three weeks. The actors "delivered their lines while trying to tie themselves in knots, jumping from carpet tile to carpet tile, or writhing around on the floor", according to the New York Times. "He had us do all sorts of things that keep you from thinking about what your lines mean," Colman said. According to Weisz, another exercise involved the actors linking arms to create a "human pretzel". "Somebody’s butt is in your face, your face is in their butt, and you’re saying the lines for a really serious, dramatic scene while doing that," she said. According to Stone, Lanthimos wanted to see "how much we could sense each other without seeing each other." Lanthimos himself said that he believed the rehearsals allowed the actors "to not take themselves too seriously, learn the text in a physical way by doing completely irrelevant things to what the scene is about, just be comfortable about making a fool of themselves."
Filming had been expected to begin in the spring of 2016, but was pushed back a year, during which time Lanthimos made The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Principal photography on The Favourite began in March 2017 at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, and had finished by May; there were 45 shooting days. Regarding his choice of Hatfield, Lanthimos said "from the beginning, I had this image of these lonely characters in huge spaces."
Production designer Fiona Crombie drew inspiration for the film's colour palette from the chequered black-and-white marble floor in the house's Great Hall, noting that "a character will walk into a room and you get this incredible wide-shot—we're talking seeing from the floors to the ceilings to the corners. You see everything." Several alterations were made to various rooms in the house, particularly for the Queen's room, which included removing paintings, furniture and other decorations, in order to "put our own language into it". As with most of Lanthimos' works, the film implements natural lighting as opposed to artificial lighting, which proved to be somewhat challenging for the night time scenes, which were candle-lit: "as you imagine, there are very strict protocols about managing candles […] we had to use an enormous number of wax-catchers. But the people who manage Hatfield were very supportive and we negotiated and negotiated, and we would be able to do a vast majority of what we wanted to do".
Costume designer Sandy Powell specifically sought out Lanthimos, having been a fan of his previous work, including Dogtooth and Alps (2011). Regarding Abigail, Powell wanted the character’s rise to power to be reflected in her costumes. "I wanted to give her that vulgarity of the nouveau riche, and her dresses get a little bolder and showier. There’s more pattern involved and there are black-and-white stripes [...] I wanted her to stand out from everybody else as trying too hard," she said. Although Queen Anne spends most of her time in the film in a nightgown because she is ill, Powell wanted her to have an "iconic" look, and so constructed a robe made of ermine, explaining that
This is the queen at her most queenly, in her ceremonial outfit [...] I looked at images and real things like it, and normally [this type of garment] would be solid gold, embroidered, and bejeweled, so I thought what else can I do just to give it an air of royalty? Ermine is associated with royalty, it’s usually just used as a decoration in small amounts, so I decided to just cover her in it. Because in the rest of the film I have her in a nightgown, not bothering to get dressed every day.
Although unintentional, Powell drew inspiration for Sarah’s contrasting "feminine" gowns and her "masculine" and "butch" recreational attire, from her previous designs for Tilda Swinton’s character in Orlando (1992): "I didn’t think about it at the time, it was just subliminal. I do think there is a similarity between the two films because Orlando was the last unconventional period film I'd done, so there is a similarity". Powell stated that Lanthimos wanted the women in the film to have natural hair and faces, whereas he wanted the men to wear considerable makeup and large wigs: "Normally films are filled with men and the women are the decoration in the background, and I’ve done many of those, so it was quite nice for it to be reversed this time where the women are the center of the film and the men are the decoration in the background. Of course, they’ve got serious, important parts, but I think the frivolity of them is quite funny." Powell would deliver the costumes, see to it that they fit and that the actors had no problems and would leave the set, as Lanthimos requested. She described his directing style:
He knew he wanted to be left alone with his actors and his camera. A lot of the time I wasn’t aware of how it was going to be. Even when you see the dailies, you can’t really tell until it’s all put together [...] But when it all comes together, you’re like of course it was all going to come together, he knows exactly what he’s doing. We were all part of the jigsaw and he could put all the pieces together.
The most challenging aspect of filming for cinematographer Robbie Ryan was trying to capture fluid camera movement without the use of Steadicam:
We explored a lot of ways of trying to have a fluid camera movement that wasn’t a Steadicam move. He showed me a film early on called Angst [...] He wanted to try and instill that in the way we shot The Favourite, but it was going to be really difficult to do that. Because of the costumes and just the physicality of it, it was not going to be possible. So we tried to come up with ways of being as fluid as we could with the camera. That was exciting because we came up with some interesting rigs — we explored different gimbal rigs and things like that.
Lanthimos encouraged Ryan to use fisheye and wide lenses for a majority of the shots, which Ryan believed significantly contributed to the story:
The wide lens is twofold. By showing you the whole room and also isolating the character in a small space […] you get a feeling of no escape. I think one of the critiques of the film said it was like a playground that turns into a battleground that turns into a prison. I think that’s a very good explanation of what the film tries to get across with these characters. I think the wide lenses are pretty integral to that, as well.
The soundtrack is chiefly baroque and classical music: it includes pieces by W.F. and J.S. Bach, Handel, Purcell (his Music for a While), and Vivaldi, Schubert (his Piano Trio No. 2 and Piano Sonata in B♭), and Schumann (his Piano Quintet), but also works by the 20th-century composers Olivier Messiaen and Luc Ferrari, and the contemporary British composer Anna Meredith. The first song to play over the closing credits is "Skyline Pigeon" by Elton John, from his début album, Empty Sky (1969).
The film's sound designer, Johnnie Burn, has said "There was no composer on this film; we were working a lot in that space between music and sound," adding that he used "specific EQ frequencies to shape [atmospheric sound] like score."
In May 2017, Fox Searchlight Pictures acquired distribution rights to the film. It had its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival on 30 August 2018. It also screened at the BFI London Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival, and was the opening-night film at the New York Film Festival. The Favourite was given a limited release in the United States on 23 November 2018 and was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland on 1 January 2019.
In its opening weekend, The Favourite grossed $422,410 from four theaters, a per-venue average of $105,603. It was the best of 2018, beating Suspiria's $89,903. In its second weekend the film made $1.1 million from 34 theaters, an average of $32,500. In its third weekend, following its Golden Globe nominations, it made $1.4 million from 91 theaters, and then $2.6 million from 439 theaters in its fourth. It opened nationwide in its fifth weekend, grossing $2.1 million from 790 theaters, and then made $2.4 million in its sixth weekend. In the film's 10th week of release, following the announcement of its ten Oscar nominations, it was added to 1,023 theaters (for a total of 1,540) and made $2.5 million, an increase of 212% from the previous weekend.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 94% based on 343 reviews, and an average rating of 8.5/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The Favourite sees Yorgos Lanthimos balancing a period setting against rich, timely subtext - and getting roundly stellar performances from his well-chosen stars." Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 90 out of 100, based on 53 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences polled by PostTrak gave the film 2.5 out of 5 stars and a 37% "definite recommend".
In his review for Entertainment Weekly, Chris Nashawaty gave the film an "A" rating, praising the effective presentation of themes dealing with royalty and associated "steamier, fact-adjacent subplots". "It's worth pointing out that The Favourite is easily Lanthimos' most user-friendly movie, which isn't to say it isn't strange enough to please his fans, just that it may also convert a legion of new ones," he wrote. Peter Travers from Rolling Stone gave the movie five stars, saying, "Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and the mighty Olivia Colman turn a period piece into a caustic comeuppance comedy with fangs and claws… It's a bawdy, brilliant triumph, directed by Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos with all the artistic reach and renegade deviltry… The Favourite belongs to its fierce, profanely funny female trio." In the review for Ikon London Magazine, Tamara Orlova-Alvarez wrote: "If The Other Boleyn Girl had a lovechild with The Lobster, The Favourite would be that child," giving it four stars out of five.
Anthony Lane, writing for The New Yorker, contrasted the film's ″unmistakable whiff of… fun" to the mood of Lanthimos' previous film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, making special note of the strength of the film's female characters. Entertainment Weekly, in their assessment of the year's best films, had two reviewers listing the film in first place, with one, Leah Greenblatt, remarking "You might not actually want to live in Yorgos Lanthimos' sticky tar pit of palace intrigue—a place where Olivia Colman's batty Queen can't trust anyone beyond her pet rabbits, and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone treat loyalty like a blood sport—but God it's fun as hell to visit."
The film, which has received multiple awards and nominations, won two Venice International Film Festival awards: the Grand Jury Prize and the Volpi Cup for Best Actress (for Colman). It also won 10 British Independent Film Awards, including Best Picture; Best Actress (Colman); Best Supporting Actress (Weisz); Best Director, and Best Screenplay. It was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, including Best Picture, and was ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of 2018. It has been nominated for ten Oscars at the 91st Academy Awards—including Best Picture—and is thus tied with Roma as the most-nominated film.
Lanthimos has said, "Some of the things in the film are accurate and a lot aren't." While the broad outlines of the rivalry for Anne's attentions are true, many of the major episodes and themes of the film are either purely fictional or are highly speculative. In particular, any evaluation of the sexual aspect to the film's relationships requires understanding different mores and practices and use of language from a time long past. Arguments both for and against the possibilities have been discussed by scholars of the era.
Historians consider it unlikely that Anne was physically intimate with her female friends, however, despite contemporary rumours spread by her political opponents. Sarah Churchill is known to have tried to blackmail Anne with the threat of publication of private letters between them, which might have led to a supposition that the Queen practised such sexual habits.
Alwyn has said that there was little concern for historical research of characters' backgrounds:
I think people turn up to the rehearsal period thinking maybe they should've read their history books and thought about their characters and their intentions and all of that stuff that you normally think about, but Yorgos made it quite clear early on that there wasn't going to be much consideration for historical accuracy to a degree. He wasn't too caught up with or concerned about that. He just wanted us to have fun as people and as a cast and to explore the relationships between us, which is what we did.
In his review of the film, Anthony Lane comments on its anachronisms: "For Lanthimos and his screenwriters, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, all historical reconstruction is a game, and to pretend otherwise—to nourish the illusion that we can know another epoch as intimately as we do our own—is merest folly." As J.R. Kinnard writes for PopMatters:
History records that England was ruled for a brief period in the early 18th century by Queen Anne ..., whose physical infirmities were rivalled only by her psychological quirks. She was indeed counselled by her lifelong friend and perhaps lover, Lady Sarah Churchill... Finally, there was a chambermaid named Abigail Masham ... who infiltrated the highest levels of the royal house and, perhaps, Queen Anne's bed. The rest is left to the sordid imagination of one of the world's most fascinating filmmakers.
Queen Anne was close to her husband who was not portrayed in the film, but was alive for most of the time covered. Her health problems were severe enough that she may very well have had little libido of any kind.
Some episodes in the film are completely imagined, such as Masham's attempt to poison Churchill. Anne's devastating loss of pregnancies and children at young ages is accurate, but her remembering them by keeping seventeen pet rabbits is not, since at that time rabbits were considered food at best (and pests otherwise).
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