History is bonkers. This is a fact. It’s the one thing truly getting me through this moment in American history—I’ve been revisiting our past and it is a constant reminder that all of history is comprised of madness and cruelty, and somehow, we always survive. This is also why I love history, because you can’t make this sh*t up. One of my favorite eras for sheer batsh*ttery is the turn of the eighteenth century. Pick a spot anywhere in the world and the turn of eighteenth century is utter lunacy. In the Western hemisphere, pirates controlled Caribbean trade, the colonies had only just stopped burning witches, and Europe was torn between open superstition—the most elaborate grimoires are from the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—and huge scientific advancement. It was also the reign of Queen Anne, a disinterested politician and uninspiring leader, who nevertheless oversaw a period of feminine power not seen since Elizabeth I.
This is where Yorgos Lanthimos has set his next movie, The Favourite. It stars Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as Sarah Churchill, and Emma Stone as Abigail Masham. This is a classic intersection of politics, power, and gossip. Anne was queen, but she was indifferent at best to actual rule, and her health was not great, which led to periods of confinement and isolation. This led her great friend, Sarah Churchill, to become the real power behind the throne. Sarah essentially ran the country, much to consternation of the men surrounding Anne, and you can see all the hallmarks of a talented woman in history getting sh*t done in spite of the men standing in her way – words like “difficult”, “bossy”, “demanding”, “scheming”, and “manipulating” pop up a lot. It is likely, though, that Sarah Churchill was at least somewhat unpleasant, as her friendship with Anne deteriorated within a just a few years of Anne becoming queen. Sarah was not, apparently, very compromising or kind. What Anne really needed was a sympathetic friend, and Sarah had no interest in coddling Anne when she could be plotting military campaigns with her general husband. Enter Abigail Masham.
The trailer for The Favourite does not give us a sense of any of this. If you don’t already know what a high school drama the Anne-Sarah-Abigail relationship is, would you even care? There is certainly a lot of historically wacky stuff going on, and plenty of shots of the women losing their sh*t in various ways, but how are you supposed to decode this, and why should you care? The trailer is resting on the historical setting and three Big Name Stars—Coleman is more famous in the UK for sure but she is at least recognizable over here—to hook you. It’s “fancy dresses and historical hijinks” as marketing, without touching on the gossip and Girl Sh*t going on. This is some Riverdale level drama and you’d have no idea from this trailer.
But it’s Yorgos Lanthimos, the filmmaker behind Dogtooth—still one of the most upsetting movies I’ve ever seen—and The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Undoubtedly he’s going to get into it. Undoubtedly it’s going to get WEIRD. And this is a perfect historical subject for Lanthimos, as it’s all about perception, manipulation, and secrets, all topics he loves as a storyteller. Between the inherent insanity of the historical moment and Lanthimos’ bonkers lens as a filmmaker, The Favourite is bound to be an experience. This just doesn’t strike me as the most engaging trailer because you have no idea what’s going on besides crazy ladies in big dresses. It’s not like they need to spell out the inevitable Lanthimos turn toward the bizarre, but there is no hook. What about this trailer is compelling you to see this movie?