All About Evening the Score...
So, imagine, if you will, that Stanley Kubrick had directed his Barry Lyndon more in the same style of his Dr. Strangelove, with a hint of Fellini's casting abilities, and a bit of the insouciance for time and place of Baz Luhrmann, and you'll have an idea of what it's like to watch The Favourite (note the King's English spelling), the latest film of director Yorgos Lanthimos—who made Dogtooth and The Lobster—but latched onto a script that's been bumping around since 1998, just waiting for "the times" to accept it.
Well, these are them times, with the entire world saturated with egotistical no-accounts (in both political and business circles) and the lackeys, brown-noser's and boot-lickers who circle through their well-appointed revolving doors. It's a comedy based on historical fact with most of the kind of juicy speculation they wouldn't dare put in an historical mini-series on the BBC. One wonder never mistake it for that.
Me, I've wanted to see this thing since I saw Emma Stone do this in the trailer (which I must have seen six times)
Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) struggles to be a happy Queen in 1708. England is at war with France, her husband, Prince George of Denmark, has just died, and the Lords are revolting—divided now between Tories and Whigs, they are spatting over the raising of taxes to pay for England's expenses (led by Robert Harley—played Nicholas Hoult, "The Beast" of the Young X-Men—although the Whigs were actually IN FAVOR of raising taxes). There's a war going on and despite their loyalty to the Queen, they see no good reason why they should be paying for it. Her childhood friend and confidante, the Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), the Duchess of Marlborough, advocates for the increases, and as she has the Queen's ear, up the taxes will go.
The Queen is not only grieving, she suffers from melancholia and the disease of Kings—gout—and her grief over her husband's death has only compounded what she emptiness she feels from seventeen miscarriages and still-births—she has an infestation of 17 rabbits to remind her of each and every one. (I mentioned this was a comedy, didn't I?)
But, it's not like she's missing the conflict of family-life in any sense—into the mix comes Lady Sarah's cousin, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) who has fallen on hard times and a great deal of horse-flop. Her family is bankrupt, owing to the gambling debts owed by her father, and she has come to the palace in "diminished circumstances" to seek employment and to try and make something of herself, rather than be consigned to the streets.
She is, instead, consigned to the kitchen as a scullery-maid—where she is at the bottom of the pecking order. She is kept away from the Queen (as most are) by the manipulations of Lady Sarah—when Harley approached her "to make a statement to the Queen", she shoots back "State it to me. I love a comedy. Is there cake?"—but, when the Queen's gout flares up painfully, Abigail goes to the nearby woods and gathers herbs, makes a salve, and lies her way into the Queen's bed-chamber to apply it. She is found and ordered to be lashed. But, before too much pain is inflicted, Sarah spares her, as the Queen has been comforted. Abigail may prove useful.
|"Is there cake?"|
That has been the intention all along. Abigail is made Lady Sarah's assistant, and, as such, she is given much more access to the Queen and her own quarters, away from the jealous maids. Sarah also takes her under her wing—"Let's shoot something!"—acquainting her with Anne's daily life and needs, the better for her to serve. But, she doesn't tell her everything, though—such as that Sarah is having an affair with the Queen, something that Abigail discovers quite by accident when she is in the Queen's chambers looking for books.
Noticing her rise in status, Harley approaches Abigail with the task of influencing the Queen in matters of his interest, and for providing any details in her (or Lady Churchill's) thinking that might allow him to take advantage of the situation and out-maneuver one or both of them. Abigail initially refuses, but, to find a way between Anne and Sarah, she agrees on the condition that Harley arrange a marriage between her and a constant would-be suitor, the Baron Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn). Despite Abigail being a commoner, Harley agrees to use his influence wherever possible.Abigail, in turn, seduces the Queen and maneuvers around Sarah, making her absent for a time, thus allowing Harley to influence the Queen both on taxes and the marriage of Abigail and Masham, making her a baroness, another step higher in the court.
Be careful what you wish for.
|Portrait of Queen Anne (1707-1714)|