Yorgos Lanthimos is known for his dark and sometimes absurd movies. "The Favourite" isn’t an exception and here we review five historical inaccuracies.
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film, The Favourite, shows the complicated and tense competition between Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) for Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) favor. Queen Anne went down in history as one of the dullest and most forgettable monarchs ever, but in recent years, some aspects of her story, including her alleged homosexuality (you can read more on this here), have sparked academia's curiosity. Taking this axis, Lanthimos deliberately decides to hold this theory as true and explore the nature of female relationships and demonstrations of love through the politics of competition and ambition.
The story, which takes place in early eighteenth-century England, has some historical inaccuracies that go from basic set mistakes to important historical facts about Queen Anne’s life. However, these mistakes are what make the movie such a modern and important masterpiece. Disclaimer, there will be some spoilers!
Queen Anne was anything but stupid
One of the very first glimpses the movie gives us of the Queen is the terribly toxic relationship she had with her best friend and favorite, Sarah Churchill (Winston Churchill and Princess Diana’s ancestor). We see how Sarah constantly belittles her, to the point of making fun of her and constantly manipulating her through affection. Now, Olivia Colman splendidly portrays a kind of needy and mentally-unstable Queen who behaves like a nagging child. However, the truth is Queen Anne wasn’t the stupid, ignorant woman the movie portrays her as.
The thing is this, most of the contemporary accounts on Queen Anne come out of the political turmoil of her reign and her disapproval rate. Just to give some context, the country was involved in the Spanish Succession War, which led to a terrible economic situation and caused a huge conflict in Parliament between Tories and Whigs. To that we must add the fact that Sarah’s memoirs (often taken as primary sources) aren’t the most objective ones mainly because she wanted to show people that Anne was incapable of ruling and she was the advisor she really needed.
Anne was very close to her husband
Someone we never see in the movie is Prince George of Denmark, Queen Anne’s husband. His absence in the movie helps create an atmosphere of a tense love triangle. However, it’s well known that, though he was kind of dull, Queen Anne did love her husband very much and actually shared a bedroom with him (which was rather unusual in those days). George wasn’t that interested in politics and only participated when Anne needed his vote on something important, but the closeness with his wife is very well documented.
Another interesting fact regarding Prince George is that his death actually made things worse between Queen Anne and her former favorite Sarah. It’s said that her refusal to wear mourning clothes hurt Anne so badly that it drew them further apart.
Anne didn’t have rabbits as pets to compensate for her dead children
One of the quirks we love about Colman’s portrayal of Anne is the strange and heartbreaking connection she has with her seventeen pet rabbits. In the very moving scene where she first bonds with Abigail Masham, Anne tells her about her 17 “babies” and how they are a sort of emotional replacement for the seventeen pregnancies she had. Of these, she lost most of them at some point. Some of them were stillborns, others died within a few days or months of life, and only one, William, survived through childhood, but died at 11.
Now, here's the thing: the rabbit story works perfectly in the film, but there were no rabbits in Queen Anne’s history. According to Hannah Greig, the movie’s history consultant, the idea of having rabbits as pets was out of the question in early eighteenth-century Britain. At that time, these fluffy animals were just considered food, or even pests.
There’s no evidence of Abigail poisoning Sarah
The point of the film is to show the intense competition between Sarah Churchill and Abigail Masham for the powerful position of “Keeper of the Privy Purse,” which meant being the Queen’s favorite. In a funny yet sinister scene, Abigail resorts to poison to get rid of her adversary. This causes Sarah to have an accident while riding, and leads her to get trapped at a brothel where they want to force her to work for them.
None of this is documented in history except for Sarah’s long absence, which could’ve been a cunning trick to manipulate Anne (as the Queen first thinks in the movie). In reality, the competition never reached physical instances. Instead, it involved strategic moves on their part to get in the Queen’s favor. Moreover, this feud was also a political battle between Sarah’s Whig ideals versus Abigail’s, who had strong connections with the Tory side (like Queen Anne).
The glorious absurdity
At the end of the day, we mustn’t forget that this is a movie made by Yorgos Lanthimos, a guy who is constantly exploring the absurdity of human nature and society. Though this might be one of his least dark and strange movies, his essence is right there for us to be creeped out by and enjoy at the same time. One of these classic Lanthimos moments is the ridiculing of his characters, which we can appreciate throughout the entire movie.
Now, besides that weird scene where people throw oranges at a naked guy wearing makeup for no apparent reason, it’s the ball scene that makes it all click, so your brain understands that this movie won’t be giving you any history lessons. So far, we've seen that costumes aren’t very accurate, just like some of the props and artworks. However, the ball scenes are definitely the least accurate of them all: they're just great Lanthimos moments that bring uniqueness to the story.
The Favourite is one of the most nominated films to this year's Academy Awards, and with good reason. Rather than give us an extensive and thorough lesson on Queen Anne’s life, it explores the absurd limits of human ambition and toxic love through the enhancement of our scatological nature.
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