'The Favourite' Isn't A Royal Catfight, It's 'A Game Of Life And Death'

Jan 10, 2019
Originally published on January 10, 2019 12:51 pm

The critically acclaimed film “The Favourite” explores the power struggle between two women in the court of Britain’s Queen Anne.

In early 18th century England, Queen Anne is hobbled by illness and grief. Her close friend and lover, Lady Sarah Churchill, is actually running the country in her place, when a new servant enters the castle: Sarah’s cousin Abigail, who was reduced to being a chambermaid because of a family bankruptcy.

The film’s director Yorgos Lanthimos and actress Rachel Weisz, one of its stars, say the film depicts the complicated relationship between the women without reverting to common tropes.

“It’s really a game of life and death. Everyone’s speaking in this kind of light, this light way, but the stakes are very very high,” Weisz tells Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “These are complicated human beings struggling for power who happen to be women rather than the cliche of women clawing each other’s eyes out.” 

Interview Highlights

On embodying the character, Lady Sarah

Rachel Weisz: “As all the three female characters are, she’s not just one thing. She’s not just a powerful in-charge woman. She’s fragile, vulnerable, ridiculous, absurd, in love. I mean, she’s many many many things. So I think that was what all three of us enjoyed about our parts.”

On what drew the director to this story 

Yorgos Lanthimos: “It was the fact that this real story existed to discover that these three women at some point in time had such power, that their person, their relationships, their character, their behavior, their moods could affect the lives of millions of other people. So I just felt that it was rich in every way, both for the characters and the story and how they are connected to the rest of the world.

On working opposite actress Olivia Colman

Weisz: “To play opposite her is just an honor, a privilege and joyful. I think she has just a lot less skin than other people.

“Her emotions are very immediate. They’re very unmediated and unfiltered. They just come straight to the surface, and she can walk a line between tragedy and comedy that even in that scene I think she makes you cry from her vulnerability, but it’s extremely funny. And so that mixture of groundedness and truthfulness whilst being hilarious, it’s an incredible cocktail.

On making a period film with contemporary elements 

Lanthimos: “In many parts of the process of making this film, what we tried to do is layer it with various contemporary textures. We knew from early on that we wanted to use contemporary dialogue and not necessarily try and imitate the way we think people spoke at the time. And that you know, continued later down the line when we were thinking about the visuals of the film, the costumes, for instance, are loyal to the shape of the period, but we used a lot of contemporary materials like leather and vintage denim and plastic and 3D-printed accessories that add this contemporary feel to the film and makes it feel more relevant.”

On the royal dance battle scene 

Lanthimos: “I knew that I wanted to do something different with the physicality of this film. Again I didn’t want to have people walking, sitting, standing, dancing the way that we think people did at the time, so I looked for a choreographer that would help me do that. And we worked with [Argentinian choreographer Constanza Macras], and he came up with things and fooled around, and we tried things and changed things even in the last minute because of costumes and various other complications. But yeah it was, I think it was fun in the end.”

Weisz: “It was exhilarating. I’ve certainly never danced professionally before. … And the fact that the whole complicated, joyous, absurd dance is happening, the drama of the scene is on the close-up of Olivia Colman’s face, the queen, watching because she’s got gout and she’s in a wheelchair and she can’t dance. So you see her envy of my character’s ability to fly around the dance floor like that and her anger, and it becomes an incredibly emotional scene from watching Olivia’s face. Again, a moment where she’s incredibly moving, but it’s also very funny because she’s just quite ridiculous at the same time.”


Emiko Tamagawa produced this interview and Todd Mundt edited it for broadcast. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

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