Our love for The Madness of King George hasn’t diminished over the years. Thusly, it was with great delight we saw another subversive royal romp in the form of The Favourite (2018). Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is behind it, but the exceptional female cast is what drives the Oscar-winner along.
The elaborate plot starts with a focus on the chaotic ill health of Queen Anne (1665-1714) – the film is adapted from real life events, just so you know.
Played with considerable verve by the ever brilliant Olivia Colman (who won an Oscar for her performance), the Queen has little interest in governing her nation.
Instead, she plays with her 17 rabbits, becomes a hysterical mess when listening to music, and totally ignores her duties as a ruling monarch. She’s more like a child than a woman of stature.
It’s 1708 and the country is at war with France (hurray!). Sarah Churchill (the brilliant Rachel Weisz in action) is the Duchess of Marlborough and is effectively running the country.
Using her assertive personality and intelligence, she manipulates the Queen and directs government to double property taxes to fund the ongoing war.
That pisses off Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer (Nicholas Hoult), who enters into political battle with Churchill to block the loss of his wealth.
This fractious situation is disrupted further still with the arrival of Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), a young lady cousin of Churchill’s who has fallen into poverty due to her father. She’s on the prowl for work.
Whilst her arrival appears innocent enough, but her antics really develop the film as she starts a sparring battle with Churchill to win the affections of the Queen.
In amongst that power struggle, we have Anne’s ongoing illness and grief for her lost children (which is why she maintains so many rabbits).
And behind the scenes, furtively, the political ramifications of the war with France and a separate power struggle to restore some order to the country.
The period drama stands out as it happily lampoons, with a strong wit, the pomp and farce of the monarchy system. There’s a sense of intimacy in our – the viewer’s – entrance into that private, luxurious world.
Whilst the direction is elegant and sharp, the behaviour of the three women at the centre of it all becomes debauched and destructive.
It’s a tale of personal gain and narcissism, with individuals looking for the furtherance of their standing and to Hell with the country in the meantime.
So! The film is all about Colman, Stone, and Weisz. All three are excellent, but it’s the latter and her austere mannerisms that won the day for us.
The Magnificent Monarchy…
Although we’re mightily English, it’s kind of ironic we watched this film on a plane hurtling towards America.
We’re also massively anti-monarchy. As such, it was with great delight we saw all that pompous nonsense lampooned in such witty fashion.
The Favourite is quite similar to The Madness of King George – one of our favourite films – in that it channels the political ramifications of a ruling monarch not quite all there.
In the 1994 film, King George III (Nigel Hawthorne) loses his mind. The ensuing chaos amongst parliament places the nation in crisis, whilst Prime Minister Mr. Pitt (Julian Wadham) attempts to maintain his position.
Behold one of our favourite film scenes ever.
There’s a lot of backstabbing, manipulation, Machiavellian cavorting, and a rather sweet love story between the King and his wife (Helen Mirren).
But there’s also a very clear message the monarchy system is hopelessly anachronistic (and the film is set in 1788!). There’s even the line, spoken by Mr. Fox:
"God rot all royals. Give us the wisdom of America."
A line that sent American viewers ballistic, of course.
It’s also the type of line you now can’t so much as mutter in England these days. Post-Brexit referendum, mindless nationalism and a nationwide mania for all things traditionally British have gripped the masses.
So, hey ho, we have our treasured Royal Family to obsess over.
As hereditary privilege is the right way to maintain a country currently labouring under a chronic mass poverty crisis. Indeed.
Finally, a little bit about the actress who won big at this year’s Oscars.
From Norwich in England, Olivia Colman’s rise to the elite Hollywood was protracted but deeply impressive.
Not least as she’s from Norwich, the type of sleepy place where you spend your life staring at Excel spreadsheets. Opportunity is little.
But her acting chops were well known to us (and many in England) as she graced the excellent sitcom Peep Show for over a decade as the fun-loving, goofy Sophie.
But her remarkable performance in Paddy Considine’s bleak Tyrannosaur (2011) really put her on the map (it’s actually far more Oscar-worthy than The Favourite, but we’re chuffed she won it all the same).
And now she’s up there as an Oscar winner, we’re looking forward to her next projects. As the humble, ultra-talented 45-year-old certainly bloody well deserves more opportunities.