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A Magazine for Sheffield

The Favourite

The undocumented spaces in history are exploited to add intrigue into the plotline of this tale of backstabbing and political manoeuvring.

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Power, sex and music: three essentials to life, no matter what the era. In The Favourite, it’s more of a lute-based sound rather than any crashing guitar chords, but the backstabbing and political manoeuvring could be translated to any period.

The film is very loosely based around the relationship between Queen Anne (1665-1714; played by Olivia Colman) and two other charismatic, real-life, characters in Sarah Churchill, Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Hill (Emma Stone). Having known Sarah since childhood, Anne's attention becomes split upon the arrival of Abigail, a relation to Sarah. Sarah allows her scheming, Machiavellian, relation to become part of the Queen’s household, exposing a weakness within her cold, clinical analysis of situations that ultimately led to her expulsion from a place of privilege and favour.

The tale revolves around the Queen’s residence, where power struggles of all types are as plentiful as the food and wine on the tables of the rich. England is at war - no surprise there - whilst a monarch of declining health is being challenged to decide on whether to crush the enemy or seek their surrender.

Whether or not there is any fact in this portrayal of HRH sharing a bed with either of them is unknown, but the undocumented spaces in history are exploited to add intrigue into the plotline, and the monarch faces with having to choose between the sexual favours of Abigail and Sarah.

The language is at times bawdy and raw, whilst tenderness provides a counterpoint to the brutality of receiving six lashes from a birch as a result of trying to help someone.

The sets are beautifully lit, especially within the not-so-secret corridors between bedrooms. For once, the male characters are portrayed as spending more time being dressed up than the women.

When each actor is on screen, their magnetism is compelling for different reasons. Colman displays the demeanour of a leader who would rather have something to eat than carry out the crown duties as she struggles to walk, sometimes talk, or even listen to musicians. Weiss is compelling in the clinical manner with which she addresses each issue, and then slowly accepts that she has been outwitted. As for Stone, the ‘celebration’ of her wedding night as she coldly plotted her future will no doubt be a talking point for many couples.

This triangle of power does allude to comparisons with Dangerous Liaisons with the fantastic costumes and the, at times, vicious interplay amongst the characters. But just as this film, which has taken 14 years to come to the screen, reaches its climax, the last couple of reels stall as though the writers were unsure how to finish it.

There is no doubt that the script provides a template for the three actresses that could easily result in them receiving Oscars for their performances.

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