The Slavery of Sin and Manipulation in ‘The Favourite’

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–By Sam Hendrian–


 “Sometimes, you look like a badger. And you can rely on me to tell you… Because I will not lie! That is love!”

These words spoken by the headstrong Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) to the unpredictably temperamental Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite ring with both truth and a certain level of ambiguity. A tale of inflammatory emotional scars and Machiavellian power plays, the film presents three tragic central characters who have ultimately given up on finding real happiness in their lives and are searching desperately for something to take its place. Manipulative control of other people initially seems like a worthy substitute, but in the end, they each fall victim to their own unscrupulous schemes.

The year is 1708. Constantly sour-faced and cynical, Lady Sarah appears to be the perfect friend for the equally-dismal Queen of England, Anne. She is forthright and honest with Her Majesty when no one else dares to be, and she is skilled at handling her emotional fragility. However, when Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives at the palace seeking employment and quickly becomes quite a sycophant in the Queen’s presence, jealousy begins to bubble, and any notions of authentic friendship are severely tested.

Abigail is hired as a servant at the palace, and she soon spies Queen Anne trading homosexual favors with Lady Sarah, crushing the illusion that the two women are friends primarily out of concern for each other’s well-being. In reality, their relationship is not a friendship of virtue but a friendship of utility. Having endured much sorrow and societal ridicule in her life, Anne is primarily using Sarah as a sort of comfort blanket and emotional painkiller, while Sarah is using Anne as a means to keeping a position of prominence within the palace.

Rather than being disillusioned by the discovery of Lady Sarah and Queen Anne’s unhealthy friendship, Abigail uses it as inspiration for her own selfish ambitions. She soon ingratiates herself with Anne and also exchanges sexual favors in hopes that the fragile queen will become favorably attached to her. Much to the chagrin of Sarah, she achieves her goal of becoming Anne’s favorite, and though she tries to put on an innocent façade, she gradually proves her self-observation, “It turns out I am capable of much unpleasantness.”

At the center of these two conniving cousins is Queen Anne herself. Although she often seems whiney and petty, she is ultimately a sympathetic figure tortured by past tragedy and a lack of authentic love in her life. Having had no less than 17 stillbirths throughout the years, she takes care of 17 pet rabbits to represent each dead child. She is a lost soul torn between the influence of two Machiavellian women who are more concerned with power than her well-being.

As the film reaches its final minutes, Abigail initially seems to be victorious. She has succeeded in becoming the Queen’s favorite and cunningly dupes her into becoming so enraged at Sarah that she banishes her from the kingdom. However, in the film’s haunting final shot, we realize that Abigail is not as triumphant as it first appears.

“You need to sit down,” Abigail advises the worn-out Anne in the last scene. Anne tersely replies, “You shall speak when asked to! I feel dizzy, I need to hold onto something.” She then grabs Abigail’s hair and indicates for her to rub her sore legs, which Abigail reluctantly begins doing as if in a trance, realizing that her ruthless quest for power has ultimately made her the Queen’s slave. Both women’s eyes look immeasurably lost as rabbits begin to envelop the screen, symbolizing both the unshakeable death grip of Anne’s past tragedies and the animalistic actions of all three flawed protagonists.

The Favourite contains much crass and gratuitous content in its raw depiction of human sinfulness, and it cannot be widely recommended. However, the portrait it paints of what happens to people when they give up on finding love/happiness and pursue power/comfort instead is hauntingly effective. Anne, Sarah, and Abigail each become slaves to their sin-tainted desires, but they do not realize this until it is too late. Fortunately, we all still have the chance to rise above any animalistic tendencies and become masters over our fallen inclinations.

About the Author

Sam Hendrian is a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University (Class of 2019) pursuing an emphasis in Directing.

For more articles by Sam, click here.