The Favourite (2018)
In early 18th-century England, the status quo at the court is upset when a new servant arrives and endears herself to a frail Queen Anne.
Early 18th century. England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne's ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the Queen's companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfill her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.
Against the backdrop of the costly War of the Spanish Succession in early-eighteenth-century England, the mud-covered former aristocrat, Abigail Hill, arrives at the palace with nothing, to beg for a job. However, with an ailing Queen Anne mostly tending to her furry herd of rabbits and the petulant monarch's faithful confidante, Sarah Churchill, subtly running the country, it won't be long before the castle's newest scullery maid spots a golden opportunity to restore her status. Now--amid rapacious ambition, creative emotional manipulation, and hidden personal agendas--the ferocious female antagonists have no other option but to wage a silent war for the attention of the sad empress; nevertheless, what will it take to become Queen Anne's favourite?
The power dynamic between three women in the royal house of England in the early eighteenth century is presented, it during a time when England is at war with France. The first is Queen Anne, the current ruler. She tries to overcome her insecurities, paranoia and potential perceived weakness in being lame by that outward power of being ruler. The second is Sarah, Lady Marlborough, the Queen's trusted lady-in-waiting and the wife to Lord Marlborough, the head of the British military. The third is Abigail Hill, Sarah's cousin whose family has fallen on hard times and who Sarah hires to work in the royal palace in various roles as a domestic. The Queen's motivation is to appear that she is in charge while desperately wanting to feel loved by those she loves in return. Sarah's motivation is to implement her desired policies especially with regard to the war. Abigail's motivation is to regain her status as a lady in not wanting to feel at the mercy of poverty ever again. Others try to exploit this dynamic, especially Harley, the leader of the opposition in Parliament, he who feels that he does not have the ear of the Queen at this important time of war.
Early 18th century. Queen Anne is the monarch of England. Her closest friend, confidant and adviser is Lady Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. Lady Sarah's cousin Abigail comes to the palace, hoping for a job. She used to have status but has fallen on hard times. With Lady Sarah's help Abigail gets a job as a maid. However, her ambitions are much higher than that.
In the early 18th century, England is at war with the French. A frail Queen Anne occupies the throne, and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead, while tending to Anne's ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing, and Abigail sees a chance to return to her aristocratic roots.
- Part I: This Mud Stinks
In the early 18th century, c. 1708, England is at war with the French. The middle-aged Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is extremely frail, constantly ill and temperamental, but has her closest ally in Sarah (Rachel Weisz), her childhood friend and advisor. Sarah is measured and intelligent, and helps Anne make most of her war-time decisions.
Meanwhile, Sarah's cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives at the Queen's estate via carriage. She is shoved by another rider on the way out and falls into filth, and when she enters the castle, the maids play a trick on her and send her to meet her cousin smelling atrocious. Abigail's father has fallen from grace onto extremely hard times and Abigail is desperate for a job. Unimpressed, Sarah gets her a job in the downstairs, where she shares a room with all the other maids. The other maids bully her, even tricking her into touching lye with her bare hands, burning her right hand.
Meanwhile, Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), a local politician with Parliament, is desperate to stop the war. But Sidney Godolphin (James Smith) argues the opposite to the Queen, insisting that the fight must continue. Sarah, who holds the most power to influence Anne's opinion, convinces Anne to double the tax on the citizens to pay for the new phase of the war, and Harley is furious.
One night, Anne has an extremely terrible attack of gout and is screaming in pain. Abigail steals a horse and goes out into the forest, picking herbs to ease Anne's pain. While there, she makes eye contact with the handsome Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn) but plays coy. She lies her way into Anne's chamber to apply her remedy, but Sarah catches her and orders her to be lashed. However the remedy works and Sarah stops the beating after only a few strokes and speaks with Abigail. She's impressed and takes on Abigail as her assistant. With this promotion, Abigail gets her own room away from the other maids. Abigail reveals that previously, her father had lost her in a bet to an old German man who she was forced to be with, and she will do anything to get out of that life. Abigail also coughs loudly in front of Anne, making sure to explain she caught a cold from picking her healing herbs.
Part II: I Do Fear Confusion and Accidents
At a grand party, Harley tries to talk with Anne about not continuing the war, but can never get her out from under Sarah, while at the same time, Abigail sneaks into Anne's chambers to take books. When Sarah has a dance with Masham, Anne grows agitated and demands Sarah take her back to her chambers. She slaps Sarah, angrily, who apologizes. They enter Anne's chamber and begin to have sex, to the shock of Abigail, who flees without being seen.
Part III: What an Outfit
John (Mark Gatiss), Sarah's husband, leaves to lead the ongoing battle in the war. Sarah is worried but resolved. Over a round of shooting, Abigail asks Sarah how she can be alright with her husband being in such grave danger. Sarah explains that she believes this is what is best for the country and she has prepared herself to pay the price; she notes that Abigail understands this, having given herself over to the German.
Part IV: A Minor Hitch
Harley approaches Abigail and asks her to spy on Sarah and Anne, and bring him anything he can use to help him curry favor with the Queen. Abigail declares she'll do no such thing and tells Sarah about it, who is unfazed. Sarah becomes busy with matters of state and making decisions, and sends Abigail to socialize with and watch after Anne. Although Anne at first is not interested in Abigail, Abigail bonds with her by asking about her rabbits. She has seventeen, one for every child she's lost. Anne softens to Abigail, and spends more and more time with her. One evening, Sarah enters Anne's chambers and finds Abigail naked in bed with Anne, sleeping after they've had sex. Enraged, the next day she hurls books at Abigail, accusing her of being a schemer, and fires her outright from Anne's service. Abigail, shaken, takes a book and bashes herself in the face with it until her nose is bloody, then waits outside Anne's chambers and cries.
Part V: What If I Should Fall Asleep and Slip Under?
The next day, Sarah sees Abigail still in Anne's employ. Queen Anne tells Sarah she is not fired because she likes having her around... and likes sleeping with her. The three travel together awkwardly. Sarah takes Anne aside and tells her that enough is enough, she's made her point, but Anne confesses she likes having everyone vying for her affection.
Sensing Sarah and Anne's non-wavering bond, Abigail meets with Harley, and agrees to help him, in exchange for a favor. She wants to marry Masham, with whom she has had a continuous flirtation. Harley knows she can never do that, because she's not of noble birth but promises to make it happen, and Abigail meets him in the House of Parliament, telling him that the Queen is going to double the tax, and promises to get him meetings with Anne unaccompanied by Sarah. With that information, he is able to ambush Anne before her speech and goes onto to deliver his own speech, thanking her for not cutting the tax and ending the war to which the room erupts in cheers. Pressured by that, Anne faints, unsure of what else to do. Sarah knows someone must have gotten to Harley and set them up.
Abigail gets more herbs from the garden and poisons Sarah's tea. Sarah then goes out for a horseback ride, and when the poison takes affect, she passes out and is dragged violently by her horse out into the country. The whole estate is concerned about Sarah's disappearance, but Anne suspects she might be faking it for attention, jealous of her getting close to Abigail. Sarah is found bruised, bloodied and unconscious outside a brothel.
Part VI: Stop Infection
With Sarah gone, Anne is easily influenced. Harley lets her in on the fact that Abigail and Masham have been romancing one another, and Anne insists they be married. In order to make that happen, she makes Abigail a Lady. Abigail and Masham are married in a private ceremony. Then together, Abigail and Harley also weaken Anne's resolve on the issue of the war. Queen Anne also begins to worry that something serious may have happened to Sarah.
Meanwhile, Sarah awakens in the brothel with a massive scar on her left cheek from her injuries. She demands to be released, and initially they refuse, but she sends word to her contacts to bring money and is let go. When she returns, she is appalled to see Abigail is now a Lady. She slaps her across the face and then returns to her chambers and finds old letters from Queen Anne.
Part VII: Leave That, I Like It
Sarah (now wearing a black scarf around the left of her face to hide her ugly scar) goes to Anne and tells her that she needs to continue the war, double the tax, and remove Abigail from her service and move her away from them. Anne balks, and Sarah tells Anne if she doesn't she will release to the press, the love letters that she wrote to Sarah, causing a huge scandal. Anne is deeply betrayed.
Feeling guilty for threatening Anne, Sarah burns the letters however she is quickly informed that she needs to return her keys to Anne's chambers and that she is being removed from the castle. Sarah apologizes outside Anne's door, explaining she burned the letters, but Anne doesn't acknowledge her. Sarah moves to a different estate.
Part VIII: I Dreamt I Stabbed You In The Eye
With Sarah gone, Abigail has free reign, and spends her free days partying with the upper class and reluctantly tending to Anne, who by this time has suffered a stroke and is partly paralyzed on the entire left side of her body. At the same time, Anne is beginning to falter on the issue of the war with Harley and Abigail constantly influencing her. Sidney wonders if Sarah would have a different opinion, but Anne balks. When he brings up the idea of Sarah sending her an apology, Anne shows some interest but behaves as if it doesn't matter to her. Sidney goes to Sarah and convinces her to mend fences with Anne and write her a letter. Sensing Anne's pining for Sarah, Abigail lies and tells her that she's looked at the books and it seems that Sarah and John were stealing from her. Anne absolutely doesn't believe her. Anne gets more and more upset waiting for the letter from Sarah. It finally arrives at the estate, but Abigail intercepts and burns it.
Later, Harley is trying to convince Anne to remove John from the military. Sidney is aghast, since John just won for them, but Anne declares that John has been stealing from them and orders him removed, and the war ended. She insists that John and Sarah be banished from the country. Sarah and John are at home when troops arrive outside their place and Sarah sees them through the window.
In the final scene, as Anne sleeps in her chambers, Abigail steps on one of the rabbits, pressing down on it with her foot. Anne stirs and she lets the rabbit go. Anne then orders her to come take care of her, and Abigail, subservient again, rubs the queens legs as the rabbits move around.