The Favourite | 2018
Finally, a historical film with proper duck races. And about time too.
Coming from Yorgos Lanthimos (director of The Lobster), this account of intrigue in 18th Century England was never going to be a traditional piece of history-in-pictures heritage cinema and it doesn’t disappoint.
The power struggle between Sarah, Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and her newly-arrived at court poorer cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) for the favours of the ailing and depressed Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is set in a world of cynicism and naked ambition.
Like Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, The Favourite uses only available light (daylight and candle-light). Along with a forthrightly earthy vocabulary and (as with the duck racing) the acknowledgement of a strangely different culture, the film is far more persuasive than the polite historic tableaux we’re used to seeing on screen.
Central to the concept is the use of authentic locations with their oddities, impracticalities and complexity.
Queen Anne’s court is no glittering palace but an often gloomy complex of corridors and staircases perfect for the labyrinthine scheming.
The prospect of lighting a priceless national treasure such as Hatfield with real candles – dripping wax and posing a very genuine fire risk – must have been a daunting prospect, not to mention all those rabbits.
Queen Anne’s bunny-infested bedroom is Hatfield’s King James Drawing Room, though stripped of most of its luxurious furnishings.
Sarah’s quarters are the House’s Library, and the huge public space in which the privileged show off their extraordinary dance moves, is the Marble Hall.
Not too far from London and the main film studios, Hatfield is a popular location, seen as the interior of ‘Wayne Manor’ in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, as the mansion of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, as the interior of Floors Castle in the turgid Greystoke, the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, in the film of Virginia Woolf's gender-shifting fantasia, Orlando, Shekhar Kapur's epic Elizabeth: The Golden Age and the 1970 historical epic Cromwell, with Richard Harris and Alec Guinness.
Its Long Gallery was used for the 'German High Command' gala infiltrated by Gal Gadot and Chris Pine in Patty Jenkins's Wonder Woman. Here it provides one of the two seemingly endless corridors along which the stricken Queen is wheeled.
The other is a different palace entirely. It’s the Cartoon Gallery of Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey in Surrey. Built in 1514 for Cardinal Wolsey, the palace became a royal residence after the Cardinal fell from grace and it was taken over – and naturally expanded – by King Henry VIII.
Hampton Court’s lengthy Cartoon Gallery was in fact designed by Christopher Wren for Queen Anne’s brother-in-law, William III. The ‘cartoons’ are not scribbles of beardy men stranded on desert islands, of course, but designs by Raphael for tapestries which hang in Rome’s Sistine Chapel.
The gallery is one of the earliest purpose-built art galleries in Britain, though the cartoons now on display are 17th Century copies (you can see the originals in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London).
Even more importantly for the film, Hampton Court provides the servants’ quarters and kitchens in which Abigail is first employed.
The most impressive of Henry VIII's kitchens, they were originally used just for roasting fresh meat, mostly beef, on spits over six great fires. None of that wussy five-fruit-and-veg-a-day nonsense for Henry.
Hampton Court has been a bit shy about being seen on screen until recently, since when it ‘s appeared as the courtyard of ‘St James’ Palace’ in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows, Terrence Malick’s The New World, and Bryan Singer's 2013 Jack The Giant Slayer. Its formal gardens even stand in for those of ‘Buckingham Palace’ at the end of Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory Of Everything.
The only other major location is prestigious Oxford University. As it did in Nicholas Hytner’s The Madness of King George, the Bodleian Library building of Oxford University stands in for the ‘House of Commons, where Harley (Nicholas Hoult) cunningly pre-empts the Queen’s speech by congratulating her on ending the war with the French.
As in the earlier film, Convocation House, with its facing benches and speaker’s chair, is used as the debating chamber itself, while the elaborately fan-vaulted 15th Century Divinity School becomes the Commons’ lobby.
Both are part of the Bodleian Library complex on Catte Street, and are open to the public. If you’re planning an extra special event, they’re also available to hire for weddings or civil partnerships.
That distinctive ceiling of the Divinity School might be familiar to Harry Potter fans as ‘Hogwarts School’s Infirmary ’ in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.