(Release Info London schedule; November 30th, 2018, Everyman's Kings Cross, 18:00)
Early 18th century. England is at war with 'The French'. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail 'Queen Anne' (Olivia Colman) occupies 'The Throne' and her close friend Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as 'The Queen’s' companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfill her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.
The film is set in the 'Stuart Period' (1603-1714). Anne was born in 1665 under the reign of her Uncle, 'King Charles II'. Anne faced upset and disruption in her life from a young age. Between 1669 and 1671, she lost three very close family members, her grandmother, aunt, and mother. Anne and Sarah Jennings met in 1673 when Sarah, at age 13, entered the court of Anne’s Father. Anne and Sarah developed a close friendship in their youth; they invented 'pet names' for themselves, 'Mrs. Morley' (Anne) and 'Mrs. Freeman' (Sarah), which they continued to use after Anne became Queen. They also wrote sentimental letters to each other, a selection of these letters remains at 'The British Library'. Sarah married John Churchill, 10 years her senior, in 1677. In the early 1680’s, Abigail Hill’s father died after declaring bankruptcy and reducing his family to poor circumstances. Abigail was sent to work as a servant of Sir George, '4th Baronet Rivers'. Abigail’s mother, Elizabeth Jennings, was Sarah’s aunt. Sarah eventually learned of her cousin Abigail’s misfortune and offered her employment in her own household at 'St. Albans'. Abigail, on her father's side, was also a second cousin of Robert Harley, 'Earl Of Oxford'.
Anne married 'Prince George Of Denmark' in 1683 and Sarah was appointed as a 'Lady Of The Bedchamber'. Anne had at least 17 pregnancies during her marriage. Most ended in miscarriages or stillbirths and only 5 babies were born alive. All of these babies died in early infancy. Her father 'James II', became King in 1685. 'Mary II', Anne’s older sister, and Mary’s husband, 'William III', became 'Queen & King' in 1689. Mary died in 1694 and William remained King until his death in 1702. Anne suffered from health problems throughout her life. She was sent to France at the age of three to seek medical treatment for an eye condition. 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. When at Court, Anne was often carried in a sedan chair or had to use a wheelchair. Sarah was promptly made 'Mistress Of The Robes', 'Groom Of The Stole' and 'Keeper Of The Privy Purse'. John Churchill was given a 'Dukedom', the highest rank of aristocrat, as well as made 'General Of The Army'. John and Sarah became 'The Duke & Duchess Of Marlborough'. Sarah rose to be one of the most influential women of her time through her close friendship with 'Queen Anne'. Sarah’s knowledge of government, and intimacy with 'The Queen', made her a powerful friend and a dangerous enemy.
Leading public figures often turned their attentions to Sarah in the hope that she would influence Anne to comply with requests. Sarah was famous for telling 'Queen Anne' exactly what she thought and did not offer her flattery. 'Queen Anne' gifted 'The Duke And Duchess Of Marlborough' a large piece of royal land in Oxfordshire and money to build a large new country house there, to be called 'Blenheim', following the Duke’s victory at 'The Battle Of Blenheim' in 1704. After a tenure of satisfactory service, Sarah brought Abigail to work for Anne, first as a form of maid in around 1700 and from 1702, once Anne became Queen, as a bedchamber woman. As 'The Duke' commanded troops in 'The War Of The Spanish Succession', Sarah devoted much of her time to overseeing construction on 'Blenheim Palace', causing her to be regularly absent from Court. In 1707, Abigail Hill was privately married in 'The Queen’s' presence to Samuel Masham, a gentleman of 'The Queen's Household'. Abigail became Lady Masham. Sarah found out about Abigail's marriage months after it occurred. She also discovered that Anne had been present and had given Abigail a dowry of £2000 from 'The Privy Purse'. This proved Anne's duplicity to Sarah as 'Keeper Of The Privy Purse'. Sarah had been unaware of the payment. From this, Sarah also learned that Abigail had, for some time, enjoyed considerable intimacy with Anne.
In 1710, at a final meeting, Sarah threatened to expose Anne’s impassioned letters written to her. In late 1710, Sarah was dismissed from her appointment at Court and asked to return her gold key, the symbol of her authority within 'The Royal Household'. Abigail Masham took her place as 'Keeper Of The Privy Purse' until 1714. 'Queen Anne' awarded Abigail and Samuel aristocratic titles and they became Lord and Lady Masham. In disgrace, 'The Marlboroughs' left England and travelled in Europe. Given his success in 'The War', 'The Duke' was a favorite among the German courts and 'The Holy Roman Empire' so the family was received in those places with full honors. 'Lord Godolphin', who served as 'Lord High Treasurer' from 'Queen Anne’s' accession in 1702, was ejected from office in August 1710 and replaced by Robert Harley. Harley served until 1714. Sarah and Anne never made up their differences or saw each other again. 'Queen Anne' died in 1714 at 'Kensington Palace'. When 'The Queen' died in 1714 Abigail Masham lost her influence and lived out the rest of her life in obscurity. After a long illness she died in 1734 at 'The Masham's' modest house in Essex. The title of 'Baron Masham' bestowed on Samuel by 'The Queen' was inherited by his son but the title became extinct when the son died childless and bankrupt. Sarah, 'Duchess Of Marlborough' retained social and political influence throughout her life and died a very wealthy woman in 1744 at the age of 84.
'Queen Anne' may be England’s least known ruler, not least of all because she left no heirs to speak of her, despite an extraordinary 17 pregnancies. In fact, had Anne left an heir, there may have been no United States as such, since 'George III' may never have been King. Ascending to 'The Throne' at the turn of 'The 18th Century', essentially because no other Protestant successors to 'The Stuart' royal line are available, she assumes the role of Queen just as England is on the verge of a tidal wave of changes. Anne oversees a war with France, considered the first world war of modern times, and the uniting of England with Scotland to forge 'The Kingdom Of Great Britain'. She also confronts a shocking new era of acrimonious national division, with 'Whigs' and 'Tories' taking sides as partisans and bitterly battling each other for influence as a young two-party political system is born. For the world of rapidly enlarging personal and political agendas in which she moves, Anne is not an obvious match as Queen and ruler. Plagued by incessant ill health, notoriously meek, anything but glamorous with her myriad skin and joint ailments, and having only a limited education, she's perceived as highly susceptible to manipulation. This in turn means Anne is beset upon by a flurry of people competing to gain influence by finding a way to gain her trust, or perhaps, her heart.
Encumbered by grief, gout and insecurity though she may have been, 'Queen Anne' is nevertheless handed enormous authority and power, and in the screenplay for "The Favourite" she moves like a pendulum between extremes of would-be panache and pathos. She's not what she seems. She's a spoiled, mercurial and manipulative monarch. Though she appears to be an invalid and even simple in the beginning, you start to realize that she should actually aware of her power. It’s just that she chooses erratically when to use it, which makes for a very intriguing character. Just as much as Sarah and Abigail, Anne is a survivor. She has extraordinary strength. She wants to be seen as a good Queen, but she just didn’t have the confidence to do it. She can never be sure who to trust and who has been through the unfathomable loss of 17 children. If anything, her isolation, heightened by the vast, echoing rooms of 'The Royal Palace', only seems to increase her many appetites, needs and bunnies. There’s so much sadness in her background, she must have been terribly lonely, because in her position, you never really know if people genuinely like you or if it’s only because you’re 'The Queen'. At the same time, she's quite childlike.
Part of the learning curve on "The Favourite" is diving into Anne’s sexual desires, and the switching of her affections from Lady Sarah, who had been essentially running the country in Anne’s stead, to her new favourite, Abigail, who appeals to her in an entirely different way. She and Sarah have known each other since they're little girls and they’ve always protected each other. But with Abigail, Anne is just so thrilled that someone is so attentive towards her. She just thinks, ‘oh, this beautiful young creature is looking at me’ and she’s completely struck by that. But the tragic part is that 'The Queen' thinks it’s all for real, and it’s not. What interested most are these three characters, their power, their fragile relationships and how the behaviour of so few people could alter the course of a war and fate of a country. It's also a love story that can be quite funny and dramatic and gets dark. The film focuses on the female triangle in 'Queen Anne’s' bedchamber and this shift in Anne’s affections from Sarah to Abigail.
The two women who make their way deep into Anne’s inner sanctum create a triumvirate of female power-players uncommon for any time period, let alone in the so-called days of pre-Enlightenment. Pulling strings behind the reign of 'Queen Anne', and propping her up in more ways than one, is her right-hand woman, the legendarily sharp and alluring Lady Sarah Churchill, 'The First Duchess Of Marlborough'. Lady Sarah Churchill is 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 is Abigail Masham, who's Sarah’s cousin by birth but reduced to destitution by family bankruptcy, joining 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 is pulling. 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. There are interesting snippets to be found elsewhere where Abigail emerges as a ruthless chambermaid, and her trajectory clearly reveals her ambition. That's the historical account. But the bones of the story come to life with a psychological and sensual resonance that escaped the history books.
Lady Sarah is one of the most powerful political figures of her times, the woman who kept 'The Queen’s' purse, bent 'The Queen’s' ear and blackmailed her when she feels it necessary. She met 'The Queen' when both were young daughters of powerful men, secluded in the boring confines of 'The Royal Palace'. Their friendship would develop into something both symbiotic and highly intimate, the real Anne indeed wrote Sarah passionate letters with lines such as, 'I hope I shall get a moment or two to be with my dear, that I may have one embrace, which I long for more than I can express'. Though Sarah married John Churchill, who was soon named 'The Duke Of Marlborough' by 'Queen Anne', the closeness between the two women continued long after. When Anne ascended to 'The Throne', she named Sarah to several key positions including 'Mistress Of The Robes', the highest title that could be held by a woman in that time, and 'Keeper Of The Privy Purse'. Sarah took those opportunities for all they're worth. She becomes Anne’s most indispensable adviser, holding forth on matters of policy, politics and intricate war strategy. Renowned for her fierce intelligence, her savage temper, her gutsy frankness and also her oft-mentioned beauty, Lady Sarah also drew a circle of sycophants and influence-seekers around her.
Sarah has the whole package. She’s very intellectually powerful, she’s very sexually powerful, she’s physically quite powerful and politically she's said in charge of, well she would say, she’s in charge of the entire country. She has the clarity and decisiveness of any modern political leader. But for all her brilliance, Sarah cannot deny that her leadership positions stems from one source only: her ever so co-dependent relationship with 'Queen Anne'. 'The Queen' and Sarah have a very complicated relationship that's constantly shifting. Neither politics, nor battle tactics nor running the country is Anne’s strong suit, but that’s all very appealing to Sarah. Yet, they're also childhood best friends who make love to one another. Their relationship gets into all kind of themes of sexual politics, power games, power struggles, emotional needs, emotional dependence, dominance and subjugation, as well as pain, protectiveness and healing.
Even amid all the men making power bids in the court of 'Queen Anne', Lady Sarah has few rivals. So it takes her by surprise when the woman she chose to become Anne’s bedchamber maid, her subservient cousin, Abigail, becomes her greatest threat on every level. Sarah really misjudges Abigail. She perceives Abigail as being needy and weak because she’s fallen on such hard times, and because her father lost his own daughter gambling. Sarah initially feels tenderness and compassion towards Abigail. She wants to protect her and teach her how to be a strong woman. It turns out, Abigail needs no help whatsoever. From the moment Abigail tumbles from her carriage into the stinking mud outside 'The Royal Palace', she begins to skew the balance of power within. Throwing herself upon Sarah’s mercy, she takes a job as a scullery maid but soon ingratiates her way deep into 'The Queen’s' bedroom. If Sarah has always dominated the fragile Queen, Abigail soothes her, and the student overtakes the master in the balance of power. As with her cohorts in the film’s triangle, Abigail is made of contrasts; her cool, shrewd pragmatism, the fruits of a hard knock life, mix with her seemingly unlimited capacity for charm. She has a great amount of confidence and she's a real survivor.
The reason why Abigail is able to win the wary Queen’s trust is that Abigail senses her need to be loved for who she's, rather than for her enormous stature and power. She always listening and paying attention and using what she learns. Then there's the royal protocol. In 'The Palace', everything is so formal and so presentational. That's all fascinating to learn. Abigail has to back out of the room because you don’t turn your back on 'The Queen'. Abigail is the lightning rod who sets the story in motion. She transforms from a stranger to a very dangerous political and romantic operative. Instead the idea of who's a villain or a victim is one that shifts and changes and moves from one character to another. This way you feel for what they each do and you aren’t be able to make absolute judgements on their characters even if they do a horrible thing.
The rule of 'Queen Anne' is marked not only by the first modern worldwide war and the uniting of 'The United Kingdom', but also by the emergence of partisan politics, or what's called at the time 'The Rage Of Party', rife with vicious, personal in-fighting and ideological stand-offs. 'The Queen- sat atop a constitutional monarchy, sharing power with an elected parliament made of 'Whigs' and 'Tories' beholden to their constituents. 'The Whigs', largely of landed aristocracy, supported the war and initially have the monarchy’s support. 'The Tories', the opposition party, sought to bring the war, with all it's mounting costs in blood and treasure, to an end. Although both parties were of course entirely made up of men the film emphasizes the women in action and in control; while the flamboyantly rouged and blinged-out men are reactive. The men may be greater in numbers but not in spirit. Everyone in this film is using one another, whether it’s for power, position, influence or sex.
'The Tory' opposition leader is Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), '1st Earl Of Oxford', considered one of the modern world’s first master practitioners of spin. Though he would ultimately become 'Queen Anne’s' chief minister, in the film Harley finds his access to 'The Queen' constantly blocked by Sarah. It's only the arrival of Abigail that reverses Harley’s fortunes, allowing him to make his case that the war is a financial disaster. His character, the kind more often in the historical foreground, in fact gets relegated to a secondary position in the film, reliant on Sarah and then Abigail to gain influence with Anne. Harley is quite manipulative, noting that to get 'The Queen’s' ear, Harley has to weave his way in through an alliance with Abigail. One historical reality that's reflected, albeit stylized, in the film is Harley’s fondness for a flashy outfit. Harley’s political rival is the most powerful politician of the day, Sidney Godolphin (James Smith), '1st Earl Of Godolphin', who served as 'First Lord Of The Treasury' under 'Queen Anne'. Though a 'Tory' by name, Godolphin aligned himself with 'The Whig' leader John Churchill (Mark Gatiss), 'The Duke Of Marlborough', to find ways to fund England’s war with France.
John Churchill is a soldier and statesman whose influence spanned five monarchs, and who commanded English, Dutch and German forces in the war against France. The historic Churchill married Sarah when she was still a teen, but later his wife’s curiously tight bond with 'The Queen' would prove to be of great advantage. Under her reign, Churchill amassed not only power, with Anne naming him to his dukedom, but a considerable fortune. In the film, they're truly a power couple. Sarah is effectively running the country, and brilliantly playing the game of dangling political favors, while John is conducting the war. John acknowledges that his wife is better than he's at politics and she’s the more important one in this relationship. Rounding out the male supporting cast is Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn), who's only too happy to allow Harley to broker his marriage to Abigail, finally affording Harley the access he’s long pursued. For Abigail, the marriage is equally valuable, raising her rank, bringing her closer to her quest to fully unseat Lady Sarah as 'The Queen’s' favourite. There’s an immediate physical lust and interest for Masham, and being obviously higher up rank, he expects he’ll be the one in power in their courtship. But Abigail quickly subverts that idea. Her wit and her boldness catch him off guard. He’s turned on by the playful banter and each scene is a power struggle to see who comes out on. When you make a film set in another time it's always interesting to see how it relates to our time; you realize how few things have changed apart from the costumes and the fact that we've electricity or internet. There are so many ongoing similarities in human behaviour, societies and power. The film discovers a period in 18th century English history where women held power and influenced events on the British political and European stage. The setting for "The Favourite' has been plucked from real history, from the veiled world of 'Queen Anne', the last and historically most ignored of 'The Stuart' line of Britain’s rulers, who infamously gouty, shy and disregarded, nevertheless reigned as 'Great Britain' became a global power. It's through Anne’s intricate relations with two other women of cunning and aspiration, her lifelong intimate friend and political advisor Lady Sarah, and Sarah’s penniless cousin turned social-climbing chambermaid Abigail, that the film dives into a whirlpool of manipulations and emotions that define the phrase palace intrigue.
A dark yet comic story about three hugely commanding women jockeying with raw abandon for love, favor and power that actually feels very contemporary. The film creates it's own very alive universe, playing freely with the external events of the day to service and motivate the inner lives and personal politics of his characters. And speculations aside, no knows what went on verbally, physically or otherwise behind the doors of 'Queen Anne’s' court, let alone in her bed. For a story of such sprawling history, "The Favourite" takes place in a very insular world; largely within the confines of 'The Royal Palace’s' walls where power plays, seductions, blood orange throwing and the occasional duck or lobster race transpire, detached from the realities of the outside world. Though the film plays like a bedroom farce with global consequences.
We're inspired by the real people and stories but largely reimagined them in order to make films that alludes to similar issues that we all can identify with or recognize in our everyday contemporary lives. The story is about how complicated love is, and how who you're as a person can be perverted and deformed by those complications. It’s about these people who love each other, but there are so many other aspects of their personality and aspects of what they want in the world-at-large that get in the way of staying in love. People are all sorts of things at any given time and they also do the unexpected. The vision of the world is that there’s a broader way of looking at people and that the deeper you look, the more complicated, perverse and strange people become. Audiences really respond to that because that's true of what people are like. And even though we knew this was society of manners at that time, underneath the film shows a sort of casual cruelty. Society is rigid and you stuck where you're, so all you've is your ability to influence other people and to shift yourself and your motive; to shift your ground. That's why people operate with such hardcore cruelty.