Between Meghan Markle mania, Netflix’s hugely popular historical drama The Crown, and the upcoming Saoirse Ronan/Margot Robbie-starring Mary Queen of Scots, it seems we cannot get enough of the trials and tribulations of the British royal family. Add a dose of Yorgos Lanthimos’s quirky female-driven period piece The Favourite, and we hereby dub 2018 a royal flush.
The Favourite and The Crown share a queen (Olivia Colman) and a monarchy (British), but the overlap is otherwise limited. That being said, if you find yourself desperately googling every major plot point on the Netflix series, the film will provide an exciting (and surprising) new chapter of history for you to pore over.
Set in the early 18th century, The Favourite follows Abigail (Emma Stone) as she rises in the palace ranks from lowly servant to the sickly Queen Anne’s confidant under the watchful eye of Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), whose intimate relationship with Colman’s Anne, and the future of England itself, is threatened by the new dynamic.
The nature of Sarah and Anne’s relationship has long been thought as romantic, evidenced by the impassioned correspondence between them, but The Favourite takes the 18th century whispers one step further, cementing the sexual rapport between the pair.
“There are love letters between my character and the Queen,” Weisz explained during a roundtable discussion on the film. “Very, very passionate love letters between two women who were obsessed with each other,” she continued. “It could be that they were just co-dependent friends — we don’t know. Who knows what anybody does when they’re alone together, behind closed doors. Biographies can write things until the cows come home, but when people are alone, they’re alone. I’m really moved by the idea that maybe they were lovers,” she added. “I think they were, but I can’t prove it.”
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Though the historical influence is certainly present, Lanthimos didn’t want his actors getting bogged down in the accuracy of every detail. “We were inspired by real people and whatever we knew of the history, but then we invented a lot of things and created our own story and own characters, and with a very particular tone, so I don’t think it would necessarily help [the actors] a lot to find facts about those characters,” he said. “It’s not a history lesson.”
Stone, the only American in the principle cast, faced an additional challenge when it came to preparing for the role: perfecting her British accent.
“I started listening to some more modern accents, like Carey Mulligan’s accent, because she has a deep voice — and I love her as a person, too, so it was easy to watch some of her interviews,” the Oscar winner said of her vocal preparation. For a more hands-on approach, Stone took her accent to the streets. “For the most part I’d just put my hat on and try to go in Ubers, and taxis, and bodegas and talk to them in my accent,” she told us.
Already touted as an awards season knock-out, beyond its royal ties, The Favourite carries a broad appeal, be it its all-star cast (which also includes Joe Alwyn and Nicholas Hoult), Oscar-nominated director, or the interestingly niche focus of the story itself.
“It’s very high-stakes,” Weisz repeats when describing the narrative and the struggle her character faces. “There was love and romance and friendship, but more than all of that there was a country to run and the future of the entire population of England, so that’s a really high-stakes job.”
So why is it that we are so eager to open our eyes and think of England and its rulers? Alwyn, who stars in both The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots, attempts to put his finger on the obsession: “It’s just this kind of unreachable family in life. There are so many stories in it — which are both real and fictitious, and people seem to have a kind of inexhaustible interest. It feels like, from my experience of being here, people I’ve met [in America] have been more excited by the idea of the royal family then back home — I have no idea why.” Don’t worry, Joe assures us he still tuned in for the royal wedding.
The Favourite opens nationwide on Friday, Nov. 23.
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