The Favourite Parent Guide
An unpleasant period piece with equally unpleasant characters, toxic sexual relationships, and inaccurate historical detail.
Parent Movie Review
“It turns out I am capable of much unpleasantness”, warns Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) as she plots her rise through the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) in the early 18th century. Sadly, the movie about her journey, The Favourite, is also capable of much unpleasantness, which it delivers for an excruciating two hours.
The Queen Anne portrayed in The Favourite is physically and emotionally frail, suffering from gout and psychologically scarred by the deaths of her 17 children. She is comforted and guided or controlled and manipulated (depending on the day) by her friend of many decades, Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). Lady Sarah’s husband is Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss), brilliant soldier and Commander in Chief of Britain’s armies. Sarah is dedicated to her husband’s military career and uses her influence over the Queen to ensure that the war effort is adequately funded.
When Sarah’s orphaned cousin, Abigail Hill, arrives at court seeking employment, she is given a job in the kitchens, rapidly rising in favor when her herbal remedies alleviate the Queen’s suffering. Seizing her chance, Abigail seeks to gain security by replacing Sarah in the Queen’s favor - and in her bed.
The lesbian love triangle at the heart of this film will be of concern to all parents, whether their views on sexuality are traditional or contemporary. The relationships are so selfish, so calculating, so transactional that it is hard to decide what is more off-putting – Anne’s total disregard for the feelings of her partners, Abigail’s cynical manipulation of a damaged, vulnerable woman, or Sarah’s attempted blackmail of her erstwhile lover. The sexual content between the female partners is, aside from some kissing, largely implied. There are, however, more graphic, albeit brief, sex scenes in the movie involving heterosexual activity which is somewhat more explicit. And there is even more sexual content - talk of rape, a chilling scene in a brothel, discussions of prostitution, and several scenes of female nudity (breasts and buttocks visible in sexual and non-sexual contexts). Sexual expletives and coarse terms for female genitalia are also used frequently in this production.
Period film fans will likely be frustrated with The Favourite because it doesn’t aim for historical accuracy. The love triangle in the movie is historically questionable, the costumes are cut correctly but made from modern fabrics, the camera work is often disorienting, dances are anachronistic, and the soundtrack veers between classical music and weirdly percussive modern soundscapes.
Negative content and historical inaccuracy are only part of what ails this film. Its biggest problem lies with the characters. Despite impressive acting from the three female leads, their characters are all so self-absorbed, callous, and heartless that it is impossible to care what happens to any of them. This is a critical flaw in a movie that is based more on character than on plot and explain why this film is not likely to become a universal favorite.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz. Running time: 119 minutes. Theatrical release December 21, 2018. Updated March 6, 2019
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Favourite rated R? The Favourite is rated R by the MPAA for strong sexual content, nudity and language
Violence: A man pushes a woman out of a stagecoach: she lands face first in the mud. There are several scenes where women slap other women in the face. A servant tells a woman to wash the floors and doesn’t warn her about the lye in the water: her hand burns. There are scenes where women shoot birds. On one occasion, blood sprays from the bird across the face and clothing of one of the women. A woman shoots at another woman with an unloaded gun. People use violent expressions in conversation. A woman screams at people on several occasions. A young woman is whipped with a wooden rod. A man pushes a woman into a ditch when she will not do what he wants her to do. A woman hits herself in the face with a book until her nose bleeds. A woman deliberately poisons another woman; she later falls from her horse and receives multiple bloody injuries, one of which leaves a scar. A woman deliberately steps on a rabbit. A main character threatens suicide while standing at an open window.
Sexual Content: It is implied that a man is masturbating in front of a woman travelling in a stagecoach. A man pinches a woman on the backside. A man complains about being aroused; his wife manually stimulates him and wipes hand on the bed. (Genitals are not visible.) There are several scenes of female nudity where breasts and buttocks are visible: in a group shower, in the hallway of a brothel, and in paintings on the walls. A woman talks about being sexually assaulted as payment for her father’s gambling debts. A naked man is seen in some kind of entertainment and having food thrown at him: his hand is over his genitals. Rape comes up in conversation on more than one occasion. A man tries to kiss a woman and she bites him on the lip. They later chase each other around the woods and slap each other. Passionate kisses between women occur in a few scenes: sexual activity is implied. Women are shown sleeping together; one woman’s breast is clearly visible. Women discuss lesbian sexual activities. An injured woman who has been tended in a brothel is told she can perform sexual acts in payment. A woman discusses a man’s genital size. Men are shown standing up and having sex with women – once against a tree in the dark, on another occasion in the corner of a room. A man and wife kiss each other. A woman threatens to blackmail her female lover with sexually explicit letters.
Profanity: There are approximately three dozen profanities in this movie, over half of which are sexual expletives or crude terms for female genitalia.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Men are shown smoking. Main characters drink alcohol in several scenes, sometimes to excess and sometimes as a way to handle stress.
Page last updated March 6, 2019
The Favourite Parents' Guide
What do you think of the motivations Sarah and Abigail have for their desires to gain Queen Anne’s favor? Is Abigail’s desire for security understandable? What other options do you think she has? Do you think Sarah is trying to build her own power or to influence policy to help her husband with the military funding she needs? Is her behavior focused on herself or on her country? Do their motives make their behavior more or less reprehensible?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you are looking for a more historically accurate of the life of Queen Anne, try Edward Gregg’s Queen Anne from the English Monarch Series.
p>Anne’s own family backstory is told by Maureen Waller in Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father’s Crown.
Winston Churchill wrote a four volume biography of his famous ancestor, Lord Marlborough, in Marlborough: His Life and Times.
The most recent home video release of The Favourite movie is March 5, 2019. Here are some details…
Related home video titles:
If you are looking for a less offensive period piece about a scheming and manipulative woman, try Love and Friendship, which stars Kate Beckinsale in an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan.
A Man for All Seasons, set during the Tudor dynasty, is another tale of the dangers of life under the eye of the monarch.