The Weirdness of the Topography of ‘The Favourite’

The Favourite is set in about 1705-1711 in London, at presumably, notionally, Kensington Palace, Queen Anne’s principal residence, where, according to Wikipedia, the final falling out between Queen Anne and the Duchess of Marlborough took place. The setting could, however, have been intended to be Hampton Court, the courtyard of which appears in one scene. It was filmed mostly at Hatfield House. Hatfield house is an Elizabethan country house that had a Victorian makeover so is slightly confused historically. (I did wonder whether the main room used was in fact a set. There is also a gallery with copies of Raphael’s Tapestry cartoons which I could not place.)

Every film needs locations, but here the location, as a remote rural country house, seemed to take over the plot, which, in its bare-Wikipedia outlines, but only in this, is factual. (The lesbian sexual dynamic is the fictional bit.) There are scenes of shooting birds in the back garden of what must be Hatfield, which looks very rural, but not so much as two crucial moments for the plot which situate the palace firmly in the country, although I suppose they make sense if it was Hampton Court. The first is where Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) rides out into the woods to gather herbs. The second is where Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) is dragged through what look like the same woods by her horse so far that no-one thinks to connect her unconscious body with the palace. She ends up at a brothel situated, bizarrely in the middle of these woods, rather like the witches house in Hansel and Gretel. Here the director could not resist indulging in the carnivalesque that is de rigueur for movies set in the eighteenth century, for which Gilray has much to answer, with plump prostitutes baring their bums at Lord Godolphin, whom Sarah had told the madam who is her rescuer/captor to find in return for a promised reward. The madam is told to find a man walking a duck in Hyde Park, so we are suddenly back in London. The duck appears at the beginning in a mildly carnivalesque scene of a duck race at the beginning, and in the middle being stroked suggestively in a sexual visual gag. And near the end is another carnivalesque scene of a naked fat man clutching his private parts while being pelted with eggs or something and thoroughly enjoying it. This scene is completely gratuitous as far as the plot is concerned. And there is much play between the soberly dressed Godolphin (Sarah’s man) and the high camp bewigged Harley (in alliance with Abigail). The former is played as old, the latter as young (in reality he was going on 50) and very tall, but not so young as the last role one remembers the actor for: the boy in About a Boy (Nicholas Hoult.)

Blenheim Palace appears as a model (it was built from 1705 to 1722) and in a reference to it being still just empty fields.

The costume design is fabulous, with a black and white theme that is very stylish. At a scene at a concert when the battered Sarah appears the women are wearing hair pieces à la fontanges, supposedly invented by the Marquise de La Fontanges, a mistress of Louis XIV, when she lost her cap while hunting who returned with her hair tied up in a ribbon. It was popular in the 1690s, possibly out of date by 1705. It has a fan like arrangement, like an art deco mirror, sometimes on a frame, but here they are more natural, while Abigail Hill wears one that is more a loose ribbon bow than à la fontanges. There is lots of faux-lace, like Sarah’s choker, which is emphatically not woven, usually black to set against white fabric or pale skin.

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This entry was posted in All Posts, Architecture, Art, Baroque architecture, Baroque Gardens, Elizabethan Architecture, English Gardens, Movie Commentaries, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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