I interrupt this narrative to deliver a film rant. I was thrilled to hear aboutThe Favourite. I did my doctoral research on Queen Anne and her era. I read forgotten manuscripts, rare books, and pamphlets no one has looked at since 1713. I searched through archives and microfilms in the USA, the UK, and Ireland to discover that Queen Anne was a woman with an unusually low speaking voice who was fond of riding horses, who liked reading history, who hated ruffles and feminine accoutrements. She loved women, and she probably would have identified herself as a lesbian, had she lived in an era when it was possible to do so. She “did” monarchy differently than the kings and queens before and after her. She was involved in government, she attended meetings of parliament because she cared about the outcome of parliamentary debates, and she felt considerable responsibility for the welfare of the British people. She attempted to give birth to an heir, not knowing that her husband came to her riddled by a disease that was very likely syphilis, and that her nearly twenty pregnancies were doomed. She spent her entire adult life pregnant or recovering from pregnancy, and for the last decade of her life, she bled vaginally. She bled to death at the age of forty-nine, still attempting to follow what was going on in Parliament and in the wars with the French. When I heard about the film, I rejoiced that perhaps finally she was about to be honored as the extraordinary woman she was.
In the film, Queen Anne is a vacuous repulsive gluttonous sex-crazed woman on the edge of madness. Driven by sexual need, she falls for the manipulations of two heterosexual women who flatter and service her. They compete viciously with each other for her favors because she is a conduit to wealth and power. It is a film ostensibly about relationships between women, but it is filmed, directed, and written from a male perspective without the faintest understanding of the ways love manifests between women. Despite Olivia Colman’s very fine acting, which almost breathes humanity into her character, it’s a hateful film about women who set out to use and destroy each other and men who are as vile, self-absorbed, self-serving, and conniving as the women.
There are interesting directorial concepts in the film. Cameras wheel and spin, keeping the viewer off-balance, slightly dizzy; the rapid-fire dialogue forces the audience to race to keep up. Historically-accurate costumes, wigs, and makeup serve to exaggerate the characters. The sound track for the Queen’s bed-chamber is a fierce, maddening, repetitive scraping of two notes on an out-of-tune violin. Distorting lenses and unflattering angles are used to create monstrous beings who prey upon each other, betray and torment each other and slap, pound, push, grab, and scratch. I couldn’t endure the entire film and left about two-thirds of the way through. I couldn’t wait to take a bath afterwards.
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