Favorite is released in Russia is a historical drama based on the facts of British history by the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. In 2019, it is the film with the most Oscar nominations. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone play two courtiers - an adult aristocrat and a young servant - fighting for the favor of Queen Anne (played by Olivia Coleman), who ruled Britain in the early 18th century. Understanding how the costume drama became one of the favorites of the Oscar race and what "Favorite" talks about abuse of power, manipulation and codependency.
TEXT: Alisa Tayozhnaya, author of the telegram channel "See Once"
Seventeen rabbits live in the palace of Queen Anne - one for each child who did not survive: of Anna's seventeen pregnancies, none ended with the upbringing of the heir to the throne. The only son who survived to puberty died at the age of eleven, the rest of the pregnancies ended in miscarriages or stillbirth. With tears in her eyes, Queen Anne will tell this to a new attorney - red-haired Abigail with modest manners. An overweight woman with shortness of breath and an absent-minded look in her watery eyes seems to live with her last bit of strength, and half-childish games with fluffy rabbits are the only moment when her face lights up with sincere joy. For years she is unhappy and limited in movement, accustomed to loneliness and, it seems, lives in a frozen time, waiting for an easier end.
Britain in the early 18th century was pursuing a traditional military expansion. Raising taxes on the population to increase military spending is at stake, and Anna needs to balance between interest groups: Tories and Whigs compete in power, but the queen seems to think about politics only from time to time. Emotionally dependent on the Duchess Sarah of Marlborough, she is easily upset by any remarks she makes about her makeup or outfit, acts at Sarah's instigation to make war decisions, and spends most of her time in unbearable physical pain - among other things, suffering from gout.
The sick queen is put on a chair on wheels, and Sarah again carries her through the labyrinths of the palace - the main person who connects the queen with the outside world, which she does not know and, it seems, never understood. "Love has a limit!" - "It shouldn't be!" - says Anna: for all her vulnerability, every person in the royal environment is her subject and, to some extent, property. Citizens are entitled to money and titles, separate palaces and lands, but a monarchy is, first of all, a strict hierarchy of people who, depending on their personal will, can be considered things. Nothing can be compared with the rapture of power, and the bowing companions completely deprive self-criticism.
A decade ago, the producers were embarrassed by a script where there is not a single main male character.
Abigail - a young provincial relative of the imperious Sarah - comes to the palace from afar and immediately lands on the lawn near the palace, face in the mud. In a dirty dress and with flies circling around her face, Abigail comes to meet Sarah, settles in with the cooks, and in the very first days she feels the burdens of thankless homework and bullying by her elders. Having seized the first opportunity, she will try to break through to the queen - she will collect a folk remedy for gout for her and, thanks to her ingenuity, will quickly take the place of Sarah's assistant. Family ties, a couple of coincidences and being in the right place at the right moment, and Abigail finds out that Sarah and Queen Anne are lovers who hide their connection, and just very close people, in fact, ruling England together.
Shooting ducks in front of the palace, Sarah and Abigail are trying to gradually probe each other's boundaries and determine their allies: each must, despite the haters, survive at the court. There will be no sincere friendship, this is immediately understandable, but Sarah does not at all expect that her ingenue - the meek young Abigail - will turn out to be a she-wolf in sheep's clothing and aim in her place. All three women - Anna, Sarah and Abigail - will sometimes appear to be victims, remaining predators. And as a predator, Sarah will promise to make Abigail during one of their outdoor shooting sessions. Power is never about innocence. Anna loves to relieve herself of responsibility and does not see the importance of her own decisions for hypochondria. Sarah passes off personal vanity and desire for money as caring for the nation. Abigail quickly calculates the queen's weak point and chooses the most soft position to climb up with modest initial data. "You are kind and compassionate beyond measure - this is a direct path to stupidity" - this is a useful recommendation for survival in the English court.
The Favorite by Yorgos Lanthimos was first presented at the Venice Film Festival and received ten Oscar nominations in January. Only the lazy one did not immediately call "Favorite" the absolute favorite of the competition - this is not only the future superhit in the career of Lantimos himself, but also a film, which is destined for an excellent release and discussion for the year ahead. What is important, the story was collected and nurtured by the British woman Deborah Davis, twenty years have passed from the idea of the film to its implementation. A decade ago, most producers were embarrassed by a script where there is no main male character, and no one gave money for the film. The "favorite" really rests on replicas, chemistry and the presence in the frame of three completely different women. Their microcosm, subtle power games, a palace of secret rooms and labyrinths, where unannounced meetings take place behind secret doors, are the focus of Lantimos, who uses the facts of real history to tell about the main thing throughout his own career: abuse of someone else's weakness. The Queen regularly needs new toys - and new rabbits. And ambitious subjects who do not have royal privileges need the illusion that they can influence circumstances of force majeure and outwit the imposed order of things.
From his early films, the Greek director loved to immerse viewers in dystopian situations, where heroes renounce reality in order to immerse themselves in a state that precedes culture and self-reflection - into a symbiosis of affects, in which the ethical agreements of the civilized world do not work, and taboos are ambivalent. The circumstances of isolation make such a psychic experiment possible: the powers of the heroes in relation to each other expand, the public does not exist, the rules of life are re-invented - the decisiveness of some is always compensated by the submission of others. Empty Greek hotel in the off-season ("Kinetta"). A family home with patriarchy, where there is no outside access ("Fang"). The dubious business of "revitalizing" the dead in front of their grieving relatives (the "Alps"). Mating and Death Hotel for Singles (Lobster). The enchanted world of wrongdoing and imminent retribution is again in a secluded home ("The Killing of a Sacred Deer").
“Favorite”, thus, fits perfectly into Lanthimos's idea of a world closed from prying eyes, hermetic and illogical, where fictitious rules do not apply to everyone. The Royal Palace of the Favorite is an alternative context, and its rules (as in all other dramas of Lanthimos) are assembled on the go, constantly violated and depend on the courage and whim of individuals. For the queen and her entourage, the law is not written (that is, the law obeys the sole will), the logic of life is built into the space of a secluded palace, there are few actors, war and other popular concerns are reflected only in news bulletins, wealth is ephemeral. Reality has only physical parameters: sexual intimacy, pain and illness, distance, diet and clothing. Isolation is a basic condition for domination and submission: it is no coincidence that the repeated scenes with the massage of the legs and the step of the queen on the favorites (as well as the mirrored scene with Abigail's shoe and one of the rabbits) become counterpoints to the film.But this generalization is the weakness of Lanthimos's thesis and a significant omission of the writers: by isolating the love triangle from the controversial story of Queen Anne, they dehumanize the heroines and reduce them to impulsive villains.
You don't need to be a fan of British history to understand that Lanthimos largely oversimplifies historically grandiose women and rejects rich context in order to shape their behavior into a familiar thematic framework. A few hours with an encyclopedia is enough to understand what time, rich in events and characters, is packed in didactic material. Historically, the advent to the throne of Queen Anne, her domestic and foreign policies and the dynamics of court relations are in no way reduced to the realization of the sexual and romantic interests of the main characters. All three women have existed and balanced in a complex world of political forces, secret agreements, documents, costs and risks - and none of them is fully reflected on the screen: marriages and behind-the-scenes conversations remain a ghostly thread in the script, although it is obvious that Britain XVIII century could not be a world of women without men, as well as vice versa.
Lanthimos simplifies heroines of grandiose historical proportions in order to put their behavior into a familiar frame
The "Favorite" stylistically follows in the footsteps of Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon", whose action (and Thackeray's novel as the original source) takes place several decades after the reign of Queen Anne, but Handel in the salons, white with powder faces, the decisive influence of titles and estates are still the basis of the image of court life. The position in society comes to the rescue where gender loses: it is no coincidence that the life of the rural rascal Barry is transformed after a profitable marriage, and almost none of the men around them can argue with the titles of Sarah and Abigail. Lanthimos prefers not to comment on the strength of the title and the phenomenon of court power.
We are all familiar with the classic patriarchal approach to the analysis of the reign of kings and queens: when, in the case of a male figure, historians focus on major internal reforms and military successes, and in the case of a female figure, on love for everything superficial (holidays and balls), dependence on favorites and inability make far-sighted strategic decisions (remember the lessons of history from the periods of Russian queens - Elizabeth, Anna or Catherine). It seems, without realizing himself in this report, Lanthimos goes in the same direction and puts a very conservative story of rivalry for the location of the queen, whose merits for the viewer remain unclear.
Queen Anne in "Favorite" is an eccentric rogue, not involved in politics or herself, traumatized, tearful and drowned in blind trust in her companions. Despite the fact that there are no male figures dictating the narrative in the script, The Favorite is in fact a typical parable about “female deceit”, which does not reveal the people in power and the very phenomenon of favoritism. In the basic aspiration of a powerful lonely monarch to bring one or several confidants closer to him, various political and psychological needs were often mixed: almost parental feelings, sexual attraction, falling in love, friendly affection, comradely partnership, friendship, trust, similarity of views, the search for companions, emotional dependence … For centuries, favoritism has been a compensation for almost never filled with mutual love of dynastic marriages - political unions of duty to the environment and the country. The most important property of favoritism is a temporary closeness with a figure of power; there are few cases of lifelong “favorites” in history. But Lantimos does not touch on the reasons for the change of favorites: Anna, according to his version, is guided by lust and permissiveness and is simply tired of the pressure of Sarah, who has gained strength - one is tired, another has turned up.
The many shades of the reality of a complex and crucial relationship for the entire monarchy do not matter to the filmmakers: their motives are vanity, lust, laziness, competition and revenge. The main characters, under pressure from not the brightest feelings, act in an eventful vacuum. Wars seem to be won on their own, parts of the country are united by unknown forces, officials follow orders without any control - this is how England looks like in the times of Queen Anne, who let everything go by itself and plunged into an untimely sleep of reason. No one demands from the "Favorite" a fair heroic biography of the queen, but it is very doubtful that the court intrigues of the complexity of "House of Cards" and "Crown" are presented in the drama of Yorgos Lanthimos as reflexes of the spinal cord. Yes, this simplification allows you to attribute catchy lines to the heroines and chew their characters for a cautionary tale that will delight the Oscar committee, which grew up on "All About Eve" and "Servant". But the queen herself and her favorites will remain incomprehensible - conditional chess pieces in a game, the rules of which we were again too lazy to explain.
Photos: Fox Searchlight Pictures