I don’t know why I have a habit of watching critically-acclaimed films on the tiny screens of airplanes, the roar of turbines and background chatter mixing with award-winning dialogue, but that’s what I do. That’s how I fell in love with the soundtrack to Moonrise Kingdom and how I first met Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.
The problem is I’m too busy to watch movies, and flights give me some dedicated chill time to catch up on things I’ve been meaning to see, but I digress. Despite that fact that the filmmakers probably would prefer I watch on a big screen, some movies are so good they don’t need it! The Favourite was just such a movie. When it ended, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor, I was so in awe of the skill of the actresses, and the directing. Here’s the verdict on the Scale:
Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt; Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts; Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts; Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts; Above and Beyond General Media = 5/5 pts
This movie was so good I don’t even know where to start! First of all, I feel like the historical dramas I’ve seen fall into just a few categories/ sliding scale. The first is a pulpy guilty pleasure that does away with historical accuracy in favor of the drama, often romantic tension. These stories have the greatest number of female characters but the representations are likely tropey, or with a “Not Like Other Girls” headliner. See: Reign, The Tudors, Borgia, etc.
On the other end of the scale: a Very Serious drama, where war, sex and favor intertwine as characters seek to rise above their station, not knowing what they’re getting themselves into. Every character with more than two lines is a man, and the women could easily be replaced with sexy lamps, who spout words of encouragement every so often.
In both of these types of films, and much of the films in between, the women are so blaahhh. I think that’s why Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman drew me in—each of them were electric in their performances. Olivia Colman won an Oscar and she really deserved it! All of the women were “unlikable characters” with their flaws on full display. The film didn’t judge them though, it just watched the events unfold, as each character made bad decision after bad decision.
The set design and costumes were really fun, but the directing took the story to another level. This is a movie about a queen, set in her palace, during a war. And yet the way the movie is filmed squeezes you in, so you started to feel as boxed in as the characters, and understand why they are making the wrong moves—they can’t see out of the box any more than we can.
It was deeply refreshing to see women portrayed in this way, and to see power and hurt feelings collide without it being any statement on womanhood, or femininity, as lesser in any way. The story could not be told with gender-flipped characters (I don’t think), the way Emma and Rachel jockey for power and attention is unique to their roles as women in a class-based, patriarchal society. And yet the movie feels like an absolutely universal story of ambition, and being careful what you wish for.
Back to that sliding scale from above—The Favourite isn’t 100% historically accurate, but it takes itself and its characters seriously, and then message it is trying to convey is 100% received, especially in the final frames. You’ll probably leave this movie feeling somewhat sad, but also awed by it. It sweeps that scale aside and transcends it.
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