Friday, February 22, 2019
Giorgos Lanthios | The Favourite
by Douglas Messerli
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara (writers), Giorgos Lantios (director) The Favourite / 2018
As many critics and viewers with whom I communicated felt, Giorgos Lanthios' 2018 film, co-produced by companies from Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the USA, is a comic romp about two women, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rael Weisz) and Abigail Masham, later Baroness Masham (Emma Stone) who vie for the “love” of Anne, Queen of Great Britain (Olivia Colman).
Americans, the British, and evidently the Irish can’t get enough of the kind of “upstairs/downstairs” intrigue that this film, by the totally eccentric Greek director Lanthios, provides. Here it’s all evident, as Abigail, sold by her father to a German in a card game, comes filthily into Anne’s court (she literally falls into the dirty mud and pig-slough as she arrives after a long carriage ride). Witnessing, from her new position as a scullery-maid what is truly going on in this court, that Sarah is evidently sharing the bed of the ailing queen, creating a kind of lesbian relationship that might or might not have been the reality of the real Queen Anne.
It hardly matters, since once Lanthios, through the script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara takes us through an early 18th century romp filmed within the walls of the Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, and at Hampton Court Palace in Hampton Court, Surrey, we have entered another world which is beyond any concept of realism. This is perfect Downton Abbey territory, with far more treacherous behavior, as the two possible queen consorts battle it out with graceful bows, guns, and drugs. Abigail ultimately wins out over the almost masculinely powerful Sarah, and she shifts the power structure from the Tory-based demand for war with France to a more pacific retreat which will surely allow property owners in the United Kingdom to achieve greater wealth.
And it is delightful at times to see these two powerful lesbian-aligned women fight it out, particularly given the current issues of Brexit, where many of that country’s citizens want to cut off relationships with the rest of Europe as opposed to allowing a deep interrelationship with the continent with which they are divided only by their island isolation.
On the one side is Sarah, determined to conquer the European relationships, while on the other is the beautiful Abigail, who helps the Queen realize that the strategies of retreat might allow for better communication with the European continent. Given the historical context, I might argue that Abigail’s manipulation of the royal cunt (a word used quite often in this film) was highly beneficial.
The much-manipulated Queen, however, is not so certain—particularly when she observes the newly acclaimed Keeper of the Privy Purse pressing her shoe against the head of one of her 17 beloved rabbit bunnies, representing the same number of children whom she has had to suffer their deaths. Why, one must ask, did so many innocents die in her palace? Something is clearly rotten in the Palace of Whitehall in the heart of London.
Lanthios, accordingly, suggests a complete overthrow of the masculine world, where the males, dressed up in wigs, pale makeup, and rouged cheeks, are the true stereotypical feminine figures of this world, even if they still presume power. We know, through the back rooms of Queen Anne’s kitchens and bedroom, that they are truly mere pawns in the power-struggle they imagine themselves involved with. Anne shifts positions as her vagina is entertained. She may even regret her changing decisions, but we recognize them as realignments with her lesbian associates. In this matriarchically-dominated world, the men are only spokesmen for the queen’s transforming perceptions, which is one of the major delights of this film, which pretends, just for a few moments, that the issues of politics are truly controlled, in this instance, by women.
In a larger sense, what Lanthios is allowing us to perceive is a future we males have not quite imagined yet. Except that the world we might not even have imagined will surely not be controlled by terribly arthritically pained woman, who can barely read her occasional statements of major of government (which surely must remind us of another now famous government figure). Anne could hardly read her daily messages, and she made many of decisions based on the influence of her sexual liaisons. I believe that in this film Lanthios has got it quite right, even if we cannot, finally, truly like any of the figures involved in the society which he has presented.
None of his characters are nice people, none of them morally admirable. But then that is true in our own ruling leaders as well. And this film demonstrates just how sad that is—despite our utter enjoyment in watching how it might play out.
Los Angeles, February 22, 2019Reprinted from World Cinema Review (February 2019).