The Favourite

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - CINEMA -

In 1708, Bri­tain is at war with France, and Queen Anne sits on the throne. In frail health due to gout, Anne shows lit­tle in­ter­est in gov­ern­ing, in­stead pre­fer­ring ec­cen­tric ac­tiv­i­ties such as rac­ing ducks and play­ing with her rab­bits, which rep­re­sent the sev­en­teen chil­dren she has lost over the years. Her con­fi­dante, ad­viser and se­cret lover Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marl­bor­ough, ef­fec­tively rules the coun­try by the con­fi­dences she passes to the Queen. Sarah’s ef­forts to con­trol Anne are un­der­mined by Robert Har­ley, a mem­ber of Parliament and in­flu­en­tial landowner re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing in state taxes for the war.

Mean­while, Abigail Hill, Sarah’s im­pov­er­ished younger cousin, ar­rives at Court in search of em­ploy­ment. Abigail’s his­tory is tainted by her fa­ther, who has gam­bled away his good name and pre­vi­ously handed over his daugh­ter to set­tle his debts to a Ger­man. Abigail is at first forced to do me­nial work as a scullery maid in the palace, but af­ter see­ing the Queen’s con­di­tion, she sees an op­por­tu­nity to in­gra­ti­ate her­self with Sarah and, even­tu­ally, Queen Anne her­self. She uses herbs to aid the Queen’s in­flamed legs and though she is ini­tially pun­ished by Sarah for her pre­sump­tion, the rem­edy eases the Queen’s suf­fer­ing. In grat­i­tude, Sarah makes Abigail her lady-in­wait­ing.

Har­ley soon ap­proaches Abigail, hop­ing to use her as a spy in or­der to find out what Sarah’s schemes are and fig­ure out a way to cir­cum­vent her author­ity. Abigail ini­tially re­buffs him, but soon she be­comes aware of the se­cret les­bian re­la­tion­ship be­tween Anne and Sarah. As she is in­ter­ested in the Queen’s ho­mo­sex­ual in­cli­na­tion, Abigail be­gins plan­ning her own as­cent to win the Queen’s favour.

While Sarah is fo­cused on the war ef­fort, Abigail takes ad­van­tage of her pre­oc­cu­pa­tion to kin­dle a friend­ship with Anne, which soon be­comes a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship. Sarah soon be­comes aware of Abigail’s machi­na­tions and at­tempts to have her sent away. Abigail spikes her tea, which later causes Sarah to fall off her horse and be dragged away into the for­est, van­ish­ing for sev­eral days. Queen Anne, think­ing that Sarah has tem­po­rar­ily aban­doned her in or­der to make her jeal­ous, takes Abigail into her favour. Her first re­ward is to be al­lowed to ac­cept the mar­riage pro­posal of Sa­muel Masham. Masham is a baron in Anne’s court and the mar­riage re­in­states Abigail’s no­ble stand­ing as a baroness.

A bat­tered and scarred Sarah awak­ens in a bor­dello. When she re­turns to court, she is­sues an ul­ti­ma­tum to Anne: send Abigail away, or she will leak to the press the let­ters be­tween Sarah and Anne that de­tail their sex­ual re­la­tion­ship. This threat backfires and de­stroys the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Anne and Sarah. Even though Sarah vol­un­tar­ily burns the let­ters in penance, she is ul­ti­mately stripped of her of­fices and sent away from court. When Abigail, now pro­moted to Keeper of the Privy Purse, presents what she claims to be ev­i­dence that Sarah had been em­bez­zling money, Sarah and her hus­band are ex­iled from Bri­tain.

Soon af­ter Abigail’s vic­tory, her ego and glut­tony for lux­ury starts to in­flate the same way Sarah’s had. One day while loung­ing in the Queen’s cham­ber Abigail abuses one of Anne’s rab­bits, which she no­tices and im­me­di­ately takes of­fense to. Anne promptly re­sponds to Abigail’s abuse by grab­bing Abigail’s hair and order­ing her to mas­sage her legs the way she would a ser­vant. As Anne re-es­tab­lishes her stature as Queen, Abigail and Anne both ap­pear to have ad­justed to the present state of af­fairs.

Clas­si­fi­ca­tion: 15

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