So its a perfect day to go to the movies, and it has become something of a tradition for me to pack myself off to the theater to start the new year. This year, I saw The Favourite, because it was a movie that my wife did not really want to see and it would allow me to get back home by 1:00 in the afternoon, just in time for the customary Upper Malakvian New Years lunch of salted Cod, salted Potatoes, salted beans, salt, and Schlivovitz -- who wouldn't want to miss that!
The Favourite was very well done, engrossing, and kind of unsettling, in a way, mostly due to how the movie ends. Part farce, part political drama, it is (loosely - very, very loosely) based on actual events, where the favored advisor to Queen Anne, the Duchess of Marlborough, is slowly supplanted by Abigail Masham (nee Hill). It imagines them in a sort of love triangle, which is, apparently, actually possible but not substantiated. I think its been shortlisted for some awards and for good reason - Emma Stone and Olivia Coleman give fantastic performances; Coleman's Queen Anne in particular being fascinating. The costuming and sets are incredible, it is well shot, the soundtrack is haunting. I would recommend it, though I found the movie a bit depressing, in that it is another one of those movies that has no real hero, no positive influence, and the ending is abrupt and stark and really sticks with you. I think the last good movie in which I saw something of the heroic was Dunkirk, and that was going on a year and a half ago. These are dystopian times. And I am sure there is more that I can say about the movie's sexual dynamics and the #MeToo movement and all of that stuff, the cultural moment we find ourselves in and how the movie reflects on some of that. But my friends, I simply don't have the cultural acumen to do it.
But I do have some historical acumen, and that might come in handy if you decide the movie.
|Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne in The Favourite|
Here's the thing: aside from the fact that it was set in the 1600s or 1700s, I had little idea what it was going to be about. I knew there was a Queen, and some sort of power struggle, and that it was supposed to be good, and because I do whatever the New York Times tells me to do I should go see it; but that was about it.
To my joy, I found that I was in the one situation in my life where my smattering of British history was actually useful, as I could draw on some useless trivia to give me a firmer footing in a film that otherwise may have been rather confusing from the start. Maybe the film-makers would rather you didn't have any background at all - but I found it to be useful.
It isn't much, but this is what I brought to the table:
So at the beginning of the movie there is reference to a war that is ongoing and draining the British purse, and this war comes to dominate a lot of the political machinations the characters go through as they struggle over the decision to fund it by taxation or sue for Peace from an advantageous position.
Now, I know that I recently said "No More War Movies" in 2019, but fortunately the combat is kept far away and my new year's resolution is intact.
Anyways, in this scene at the beginning of the movie, Queen Anne speaks of a great victory and, thinking the war is over, is prepared to give the Duchess of Marlborough a palace.
The war in question: The War of the Spanish Succession, fought in the early 1700s over who would be king of Spain (I suppose). The Bourbons in France had a claim, and the British, Dutch, and others were determined to stop them. Much of the war was actually fought in what is today Belgium (I think).
The victory is probably the Battle of Blenheim, a massive victory by the British and their coalition over the French in 1704 that changed the course of the struggle. The leader of the British forces was John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, husband to (and here is where the connection comes in) Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough and aide to Queen Anne. And yes, John Churchill is the ancestor of THAT Churchill, old huffen und puffen, trinken und sleepen Winston Churchill himself, with those stupid paintings of his. You know who was a great painter? Who could paint one room, in one afternoon, two coats? I'll give you two guesses.
The palace proposed at the beginning of the movie was built in honor of the Battle of Blenheim, and is actually called Blenheim Palace. I think in the movie they refer to its name one time. We also see the Duke of Marlborough (who second to Wellington is probably Britain's greatest military leader of all time) occasionally but he is a minor character.
And that is really it. The war would drag on until 1714. Of the political intrigue in Queen Anne's Court I had little notion.
As I write all this, it makes me think that maybe it was a conscious choice of director Yorgos Lanthimos to divorce the action on screen from the details of the actual back story, placing the action in a sort of alternative reality where the rumors behind the relationship between the three protagonists is allowed to flourish with all of its Sapphic fire. If the movie hewed more to a more likely reality it may have only left a sort of tension between the three that may or may not have been sexual in nature, though again the actual relationship between these three women is, based on what I know, difficult to be sure of. They may has simply been every effusive in their letters to each other, or they might have been true bed fellows. The only ones who really know, probably, are Queen Anne, the Duchess of Marlborough, and Abigail Masham. And maybe their dogs and those rabbits the Queen liked to keep in her bed chamber. All long gone.
The ending of the movie is what makes it so dissonant, but I will leave that to the brave. The Favourite; run time two hours; rated R for some fruity language, some sex acts, and the odd nipple here and there.