The Favourite (2018) takes place in a hierarchical and claustrophobic micro-world of rivalries, power plays, desires and loneliness.
The story takes a historical moment and extrapolates it into fiction. Queen Ann did actually lose 17 children (which must have been truly horrific) and, without a direct heir, she was the last of the Stuart monarchs — but she didn’t keep 17 rabbits as emotional replacements for each of her deceased children, and the film’s speculation about her love life is not based on historical evidence. So, this isn’t a scholarly insight into an area that’s been overlooked by historians — in Hollywood’s own language, it’s a story ‘inspired by real events’, which means, apart from a few key facts, it is basically fiction.
So, while this story is a historical drama, it’s really a fantasy story in a fantasy setting, albeit one that’s loosely based on real historical characters. In this respect it’s similar to films like Braveheart and The Last Emperor — histrofiction.
With this proviso out of the way, The Favourite won me over with its playfulness and energy. It’s quite a bawdy film (that word seems to fit in with its tone, although I’d describe it as crude… in the same way that the TV series Californication is crude with its sex-related humour. Personally, I didn’t mind this and it fits in with the fantasy world of the story.
It’s great to see three leading female characters who are strong but flawed. Instead of being feminist cardboard cutouts, their strength comes from the fact that they’re survivors, women playing women (in more ways than one) and they’re not trying to be men. There isn’t much more tedious than men trying to be ‘Men’, other than perhaps women trying to be ‘Men’ — like the female characters in the Ghostbusters remake. The power games are vaguely reminiscent of Dangers Liaisons, but whereas that was about male versus female power rivalry this is only about women, and as such it presents a very contemporary take on gender politics.