Pride Month, Retrospective Review: “The Favourite”

Year: 2018
Runtime: 119 minutes
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
Stars: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn

By Morgan Roberts

Queen Anne, Sarah Churchill, and Abigail Hill.  The pitch-perfect threesome in 2018’s “The Favourite.”  The film is visually striking and the dialogue sharp.  But it is the three women who captivate during the tussle to hold power in 18th century Great Britain.

Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) was not meant to rule. She was the Queen who was never meant to be.  Her insecurity about her inferiority is prevalent throughout the film. But it is her friend and confidant Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) who makes her feel worthy of her crown.  Then, it isn’t only Sarah who starts to bolster the Queen, but Sarah’s cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), who fell from grace and rose into favouritism.

By the dynamics and power-struggle manifests in the sexual relationships of these women. They all at one time or through the course of the film have male partners.  However, we learn that Queen Anne and Sarah have more than a friendship, rather an intimate affair.  While, there are times through the course of the film I questioned Sarah’s true intentions in her romantic relationship with Anne. Sarah genuinely cares for Anne, but there are moments you see her care and love feel more parental than a partnership.

Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in The Favourite (2018) Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos – © 2018 – Fox Searchlight

“In “The Favourite,” while women do use their sexuality to advance their cause, the root is to empower the other person rather than make them weak/seduce/submit.”

Abigail, however, is far from romantic in her affair with Queen Anne.  Abigail uses her sexuality to advance herself in an almost “Cruel Intentions” (1999) fashion.  Abigail frequently acts as if her devotion and love.  She is good at pretending.  But, it is through this sexual relationship with the Queen that Abigail begins to shift favouritism her way.

I believe that the sexual relationships amongst the women is why the old man next to me in the cinema called the film “ghastly.”  I disagree.  I think that it highlights two elements we do not see from female characters.

Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in The Favourite (2018) Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos – © 2018 – Fox Searchlight

First, we see women using their sexuality for their means.  Sure, this is actually not a new idea.  We see women seducing men all of the time.  However, in “The Favourite,” while women do use their sexuality to advance their cause, the root is to empower the other person rather than make them weak/seduce/submit. That shift gives power to the dynamics and power to the women. Seducing means that the equilibrium of power has shifted, and it also means that as easy as the shift occurred the first time, it can easily go back again.  But, using empowerment to manipulate is much harder to undo.  The person being used doesn’t recognize what’s happening.  

“The Favourite” is not necessarily a blatant queer film. I think that is why it is so special.”

Secondly, the way that sex and sexuality are depicted demonstrate the sexual preference and expression are not binary. Queen Anne’s husband passed away.  She feels his loss and longs for him. Sarah is relatively happily married. She does not try to run away and does not complain about having to be married to him. She shows just as much care for him as she does Anne – though her interactions with her husband are limited.

Emma Stone and Olivia Colman in The Favourite (2018) Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos – © 2018 – Fox Searchlight

Meanwhile, Abigail equally manipulates men and women with her sexuality.  She does not discriminate. She sees the power of her person and in sex, understanding who to wield it on a whim.  

“The Favourite” is not necessarily a blatant queer film. I think that is why it is so special. It relies on the dynamics, and sex happens to be part of those dynamics amongst three women. 

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