In a notable scene in The Favourite—set in 18th century England—Prime Minister Godolphin mocks women’s sensibilities. “I do not know of women and their feelings,” the Prime Minister states, “but I know they tend to nurse their hurts like wailing newborns.” This line reflects efforts to typify women as excessively emotive, a stereotype that has been promulgated for years.
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Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) does not passively take the Prime Ministers’ words. Sarah bitingly replies, “Godolphin, I have a surge of desire to see your nose broken. Your point?” It is shocking to hear a woman challenge a man so directly, especially in a story set hundreds of years ago, when sexism was even more socially acceptable.
Girl power is alive and well in this scene and throughout The Favourite. Queen Anne (played remarkably by Olivia Colman) is the official ruler of England in the film. Queen Anne passes most of her duties off to Lady Sarah due to Anne’s emotional trauma and unspecified chronic illness.
Things begin to shake up in the palace when Abigail (Emma Stone), Lady Sarah’s cousin, arrives. Lady Sarah takes an immediate fascination to Abigail. Sarah soon promotes Abigail to the queen’s primary servant.
The intimacy of the relationships between the main female characters in The Favourite is as radical as their assertiveness. Queen Anne has an intense love affair with the married Lady Sarah. The romance between Sarah and the Queen is incredibly complex and real. Queen Anne and Sarah argue and fight—and the growing jealousy between the two is as passionate as their love scenes.
Witticisms also abound in The Favourite—all of the film’s main characters, both male and female, have sharp tongues. Actors Joe Alwyn and Nicholas Hoult, who play palace staff Harley and Masham, are humorous and deliver their catty lines with force. The comedy in The Favourite—which challenges gender roles and often includes vulgar swear words— feels incredibly modern. The women are undoubtedly the strongest characters in The Favourite, however—namely Ms. Colman, Ms. Weisz and Ms. Stone. The performances of these three are captivating throughout the film.
The range of the vulnerability that the three actresses display is as wonderful to watch as their cleverness. Olivia Colman in particular delivers a heartbreaking performance as a fragile queen bound by her past trauma, physical afflictions, and those who seek to manipulate her.
The Favourite is destined to be a favorite of the year and is not to be missed.
Kat Frabotta is a young adult living in New York City. In her dream world, she has a Chihuahua named Frances, but for now, dog-sitting will have to be enough. She hopes to visit Nigeria one day and has an unhealthy obsession with pasta.