Film & Television

Screen Queens:
‘The Favourite’ and ‘Mary Queen of Scots’

It’s been more than a year since The Crown’s second season premiered on Netflix. Alas, those of us who relish a bit of royalty in our entertainment will have to wait at least a few more months for the next installment, which promises to jump ahead a decade or two. Olivia Colman will replace award-winner Claire Foy as a more mature Elizabeth Regina. Helena Bonham Carter will step in for Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret. And Tobias Menzies will succeed Matt Smith as Prince Philip.

Fortunately, while we’re waiting for the Windsors to return to the small screen, we can find multiple queens at the multiplex. (And, oddly enough, none of them are played by Dames Helen Mirren or Judi Dench.)

The Favourite, written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, stars Colman not as Elizabeth II, but as early eighteenth- century Queen Anne. Anne suffers from gout and mourns the loss of her many children by lavishing maternal love on her pet rabbits, and spends her time cheering lobster and duck races in the palace. She leaves her more tedious responsibilities (like governing England) to her advisor (and lover) Sarah Churchill, much to the dismay of members of Parliament — all male, of course.

One day, Sarah’s poor relation Abigail arrives, hoping for a job. A schemer like her cousin, she’s promoted from a scullery maid to a lady-in-waiting when she’s able to relieve Anne’s condition through the use of herbs. They too become lovers, and a power struggle between the queen’s paramours ensues. Intrigues, including poison and blackmail, ensue. Anne’s lovers may be members of the so-called “weaker sex,” but they are thoroughly ruthless.

Emma Stone, who plays Abigail, welcomed the chance to stray from the “good girls” she usually plays. “I loved all of the characters but especially these three women,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “It’s just so rare to read something, you know, written for the screen that features three women who are so emotionally complex, and funny, and raw, and fragile, and strong, and, you know, powerful. They all feature such a range of emotion that it was just a dream.”

Rachel Weisz, who worked with director Lanthimos before in The Lobster, was thrilled to play Sarah. “It’s a tremendous arc,” she told USA Today. “Sarah goes from basically being in charge of the court to getting dragged through the countryside by a horse with a big scar on her face.”

While all agree that it’s refreshing to see a historical film focused on females, Colman is quick to point out that the gender of the main characters isn’t necessarily the main attraction. “I didn’t think when I read the script, ‘These are powerful women’ . . . I just thought, ‘These are three interesting people,'” she recently told TIME.

The Favourite is already an awards season favorite. To date, it has been nominated for 150 honors and received nearly a third of them, including Movie of the Year from the American Film Institute. In the upcoming Golden Globe Awards (often seen as a preview of the Oscars race), The Favourite is in the running for Best Motion Picture Comedy or Musical, alongside Crazy Rich Asians, Green Book, Mary Poppins Returns, and Vice. Colman is nominated for Best Actress, and both Stone and Weisz are contenders for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.



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