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Cinema in Focus: ‘The Favourite’

3 Stars — Challenging

Anglophiles may know the ins and outs of British history, but most Americans are woefully ignorant of the life and times of the royals of Europe and England in particular, beyond the current news of Queen Elizabeth II and her extended media-saturated family. Many know the impact that Queen Victoria had on the 19th century, and some know the name “King George” because of the American Revolution. Even more may know the sultry tales of King Henry VIII and his six wives, or the impact of his daughter, Elizabeth I.

The Favourite takes us back to the beginning of the 18th century when Queen Anne reigned as the head of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1702 to her death in 1714. Most notable during her time on the throne was the Acts of Union enacted on May 1, 1707, that consolidated England and Scotland as a single sovereign state known as Great Britain.

While it is commonly known that Queen Anne lived a rather tragic and lonely life, The Favourite gives us a salacious and mostly fictional look at the royal court of the day.

Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman, who won the 2019 Best Actress Oscar for this role) is lonely and depends on the emotional and sometimes sexual relationship with her closest adviser, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). The “favorite” of her court, though, comes in the presence of Abigail (Emma Stone), a woman of substance who has fallen on hard times and ends up at the palace as a handmaiden.

Needless to say, Abigail is driven to regain her status in society, and that will take all of the charm and deceit that she can muster. Without giving away the whole story, it is safe to say that she works her way into the right situations, the right political circles and eventually into the right bed. Whether any of this is true, the fictional story makes for a farcical period piece on the screen.

Given the antics of King Henry VIII a century earlier, none of this seems remotely comparable. On the other hand, given the fact that King Henry, and now Queen Anne, are the head of the Church of England, this is a less-than-inspirational look at the leader of the significant branch of Christendom that shaped the morals of England and the American Revolution.

Then again, it is clear why so many puritans migrated to the new world in hopes of building a more moral culture and society. It is also understandable why only 20 years later, people like John and Charles Wesley were calling for a reformation of the church in England, and ultimately influencing the shaping of Christianity in America following the founding of the country.

The Favourite is good story-telling, even if it portrays questionable moral leadership. It also shows the consequences of misused power and its seduction, but it is not for those who are turned off by sexual provocation. At its best, it is a well-done morality play with obvious flaws. Whether it is real history, or fake news, you will have to decide on your own.

Discussion

» When a leader is born into a position for which she or he is unsuited, then the nation or organization suffers. However, when a leader is groomed for life to take on a responsibility their parent once had, the result can be effective. Which do you believe is most helpful? Most dangerous? Why do you answer as you do?

» The farcical presentation of history can easily become our view of the historical figures they represent. Do you think this is unfortunate or unimportant?

» Placing the kings and queens as the head of the Church of England has been part of the struggle with Christianity in Great Britain. Do you think the Christians should work to change this? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a state-supported church?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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