“Have you come to seduce me or rape me?”
“I am a gentleman.”
“So rape then.”
The Favourite | 2018 | 2 hours | dir. Yorgos Lanthimos | Fox Searchlight
I’m still not sure how I felt about The Favourite. It had style. It had sex. And it had an unexpected message about women.
Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) loves her country more than anything. She uses her personal relationship with Queen Anne to clandestinely rule Great Britain. Harley, who represents the merchant class, is her loathed enemy.
Enter Abigail. After her father gambled away the family fortune and set fire to the estate with himself still in it, Abigail travels to the queen’s palace in hopes of finding employment through her cousin, Lady Sarah. Abigail soon proves she’s more than a mere maid as she uses her relationship with Anne to climb the social ladder.
Anne (Olivia Coleman, in an Oscar- winning performance) lies at the center of this tug- of- war. “Plagued by misfortune”, Anne suffers from number of physical and mental disturbances that cause many to doubt her ability to rule. Anne has seventeen rabbits, each named for a child she lost. Anne wants love.
At the start of the movie, Abigail has plenty of virtue, but no status. By the end, she has complete status, but no virtue- although she pretends virtue to manipulate Anne. She gets Sarah banished from England. But even though Lady Sarah loses her best friend and gets her face sliced up, Abigail loses. In the end, she’s stuck rubbing Queen Anne’s fat aching feet like a servant girl.
The Favourite is exactly the sum of its parts. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan only used natural light. I thought this made the movie look very rustic, but also like it was shot on an iPhone. The costumes are sumptuous and thematic. Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara wrote scathing, whip- smart dialogue, dryly delivered by an incomparable cast. The film uses edgy, suspenseful string music from both baroque and modern composers that makes it seem like intercourse could happen at any moment.
Men and women use sex to flex power. Abigail and Sarah use sex to manipulate Queen Anne. Abigail uses her sexuality to ensnare a lord for her to marry (fun fact: he’s Taylor Swift’s boyfriend, Joe Alwyn!). Abigail has a long history of sexual abuse and no one seems like they enjoy sex less than Emma Stone’s cold, conniving character. On her wedding night, she absentmindedly jerks off her new husband while thinking out loud about how she’s going to sink Sarah. Sarah loves Anne, but she shows her love in the form of honesty and candidness. Anne basically uses her power as a monarch to get Sarah or Abigail to service her about as frequently as one would masturbate. The men constantly plot rape.
The film only has about 5 tasteful sex scenes, but like I said, you never know when one will strike. The film’s music and dialogue create a tense, sexually charged atmosphere, but you kind of dread the sex scenes. There’s sex, but no intimacy; loyalty, but no love; attraction, but no admiration.
I really liked Sarah, Rachel Weisz’ character. Sarah takes everything in stride. When she wakes up covered in bruises and faced with whoring herself out to pay for her medical care, she gets up, utters a few even words and waltzes out of the whorehouse with nary a backwards glance. But, some people like Abigail because she empowers Queen Anne to act like a true monarch through unconditional positive regard.
The film shows how hedonism and nepotism can influence politics more than actual ability to govern. Sarah is a political genius, but Anne has the power, and she’s easily manipulated by flattery and emotional appeals- kind of like Trump!
The women in The Favourite are just as ruthless as the men. They lie. They manipulate. They abuse their power. They abuse sex. And in the end, power doesn’t make them happy.
Maybe virtue depends on the individual, not the gender.