Reimagining period films for today’s audience, the multi-awarded “The Favourite” directed by Yorgos Lanthimos breaks the tropes in the genre as it introduces the audience into Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) unusual reign, England’s least known ruler who has suffered from health problems throughout her life. By the time she became Queen in 1702, she was already stricken with gout, leading to a largely sedentary lifestyle and subsequent overall decline in her health.
Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) are the two women who made their way deep into Anne’s inner sanctum that created a triumvirate of female power-players uncommon for any time period, let alone in the so-called days of pre-Enlightenment.
Churchill is a legendarily sharp and alluring Duchess of Marlborough, Anne’s BFF since childhood who, once Anne took the throne, became a primary political adviser and perhaps (according to rumors that have swirled for centuries) her lover. The second was Abigail Masham (Emma Stone), who was Sarah’s cousin by birth who joined the royal household as a lowly maid. Nevertheless, Abigail would set in motion an epic, impassioned battle with Sarah to become Anne’s new “favourite,” making herself indispensable to the Queen, while pushing Anne in the opposite political direction that Lady Sarah was pulling.
The bones of the story in “The Favourite” come to life with a psychological and sensual resonance that escaped the history books. It started with a screenplay by Deborah Davis, which producer Ceci Dempsey started developing two decades ago. Davis had a wide canvas to work with from a historical standpoint, but felt compelled to focus on specific relationships in the brief but tumultuous reign of Queen Anne. “My focus was on the female triangle in Queen Anne’s bedchamber and this shift in Anne’s affections from Sarah to Abigail,” notes Davis. While a vivid picture of Sarah has been painted by her own memoir, “the original evidence for Abigail is sparse and comes mainly from Sarah,” says Davis, adding “there were interesting snippets to be found elsewhere where Abigail emerges as a ruthless chambermaid, and her trajectory clearly reveals her ambition.”
It was this human drama that attracted Emma Stone. “I loved the three women in the story, the way they interacted with one another,” she remembers. “That there are three really beautifully crafted females at the center of this story still remains rare in film scripts,” she points out. “The way they are each so flawed, so hilarious and so very complicated, I love that. It’s just reflective of real life.” Stone joined with Colman and Weisz for a 3-week period before production, during which they developed both a rapport and the openness they would need before the cameras. Recalls Stone, “We got to know each other so well and trust each other in those three weeks. I think it created a certain dynamic between us and also with Yorgos himself where we were ready for whatever might happen, which was so important on a film like this.”
A Fox Searchlight/20th Century Fox feature film, “The Favourite” opened last February 20 exclusive at Ayala Malls Cinemas – Glorietta4, The 30th, Alabang Town Center, Trinoma, U.P. Town Center, Ayala Center Cebu and Abreeza Davao.