“The Favourite” is misogynist

It is possible that my title is one tad too strong, if nicely economical. At more and milder length I would say The Favourite is disobliging to women and in particular to the interesting women it purports to portray.

The Favourite is a partially successful exercise in Gothic pantomime. The three lead actresses give quite impressive performances. But then their parts are all juicy and to that extent easy.

The Favourite was a project from which any right-thinking, mildly PC performer or creative should have run a mile. Firstly, of course, it was a travesty of history on almost every level. Grown-ups should not willingly foist falsehoods on the impressionable and naively misinformed young. Secondly and in particular it presented Queen Anne in the most ridiculous and fantastical light. She was, so far as historians tell us, serious, brave, useful and noble.

I do grant that Queen Anne was portrayed with some subtlety at the moments when the pain of very beautiful music became unbearable to her.

How odd, though, to invest all that filmic talent in not having some sympathy for and interest in one’s main characters. It is a delicious curiosity that until the last century, strong romantic but platonic homosexual relations were highly prized. That’s to say men loved each other, and women loved each other, in public and in ways which strike us now as overly intense. Homosexual carnal relations were formally a matter for condemnation, though were often tolerated if discreet.

All in all, it makes very little difference whether Anne loved or was pleasured by Sarah or Abigail, or by both of them. Neither platonic nor sexual interaction is of itself admirable, ridiculous or pitiable. However, The Favourite is irritating because it posits that Anne was not only vulnerable but obscenely and comically manipulated both romantically and sexually by two harridans who excelled each other in subterfuge, cynicism and cruelty.

So our three actresses may have thought here were characters which gave them a chance to show a turn of thespian speed, not least because such opportunities are denied their sex, as – for all I know – they may think is generally the case.

The upshot is a film which took three women whose lives are fascinating and worth portrayal in some richness and reduced them to one hysterical dolt and two world class bitches.

All in all the film looks a fairly typical showbiz own-goal for feminism and a bad day for women.

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Publication date

19 January 2019