• The Favourite (2018)

    March 30, 2024
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    Queen Anne of Great Britain and Ireland (Public Domain)

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    Abigail: As it turns out, I'm capable of much unpleasantness. ~from The Favourite (2018)

    In a time when we see our past being erased or distorted by the removal of historical monuments, even as the errors of critical race theory are taught in our schools, recent historically-based films and television series play a part in the deconstruction of our culture as well. Films and shows which are built around the rumored sexual peccadilloes of a historical character, usually a long dead monarch, are particularly degrading to the communal understanding of our past.

    I am thinking in particular of the unfounded rumors about Queen Marie-Antoinette and Count Axel von Fersen, of which I have written a great deal. While there is no evidence of a sexual affair, plenty of evidence exists that Marie-Antoinette loved her husband Louis XVI and stayed at his side at the cost of her own life. Over and over again we are shown that the old days of Christendom were full of sin, hypocrisy and perversion and so we are brainwashed into thinking that everything our civilization is built upon is a lie. And while most monarchs had sins just like the rest of us they were, like us, more than just their sexual peccadilloes, and should not be reduced to such, for the sake of historical integrity.

       The 2024 Sky/Starz miniseries Mary and George is an example of the gross distortion of the representation of a historical person, that being King James I and VI of England, Scotland and Ireland. While I am not particularly fond of King James because of how he treated the Irish, the Catholics and several supposed witches, he did painstakingly sponsor the making of what is known as the King James translation of the Bible, while keeping his Three Kingdoms out of the ruinous continental wars of the early seventeenth century. Yet I am reliably informed that in the show Mary and George King James is shown partaking in orgies. While it is known that James admired young men, it is debated as to whether he had a physical relationship with any of his favorites. He drank heavily and partied yet he was also very religious. He was a husband and fathered several children. He also passed strict anti-sodomy laws. Yet the rumors of his same-sex attraction were not enough for the television people; he is made into a complete profligate who only finds satisfaction with multiple partners at the same time. Who cares about the authenticity of the costumes when such lewdness becomes the center of the drama? Although I am currently engaged in writing a trilogy about James’ son Charles I and Charles’ wife Henrietta Maria, and therefore should enjoy seeing the era dramatized, I really cannot bring myself to watch Mary and George.      

       However, there is a 2018 film called The Favourite which I had not seen. It is about James’ great granddaughter Queen Anne, for whom Annapolis, Maryland is named, even as Maryland itself is named for Anne’s grandmother Queen Henrietta Maria. I had heard that it portrayed the fourth queen-regnant of England as a lesbian but that the acting was excellent. I was prepared to be annoyed at seeing Anne as a lesbian because it is not historically accurate. While it was known Anne was deeply attached to her friend Sarah Jennings Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, she also adored her husband George of Denmark, to whom she bore seventeen children, all of whom died. And eventually George himself died. The multiplicity of deaths made an already highly moral woman more devout as she fought depression, gout and numerous other debilitating health problems while still in her forties. Yet she actively took a role in managing the government, even when ill, and was known for her extensive charities.

       Olivia Coleman is perfectly cast as Queen Anne, resembling her in both face and figure. Rachel Weisz is too dark for Sarah, who was famous for her delicate blond beauty; Emma Stone is too pretty for Abigail, who by all accounts was homely. Sarah is repeatedly referred to as “Lady Marlborough” when as a Duchess she would have been called “Her Grace.” Yes, the acting is spectacular. However, all the men are shown as buffoons or thugs; Queen Anne’s husband is not shown or mentioned at all, although I assumed he was the reason the court was in mourning. At least, I thought they were in mourning because they were all in black and white. Then I discovered that at the time covered in the film, George would still have been alive. So a devoted husband who was greatly loved by his wife, who shared a bed when most royal couples did not, is sacrificed to the filmmakers’ preference for a gay story-line. 

       Nevertheless, what horrified me about The Favourite is how the characters based upon Sara and Abigail sexually exploit a sick and shattered woman for their personal gain and influence. As someone who has cared for ill and impaired individuals, to see such advantage taken of an invalid filled me with disgust. The movie tries to make it comical, which adds to the vileness. And poor Queen Anne, who was a lady of great dignity in spite of her lifelong struggles with bad eyesight and her weight, is continually made a figure of fun, falling on her face, screeching hysterically at the servants, and smacking Sarah, like Judy in a Punch and Judy show. The loss of all of her children is made into a ridiculous spectacle as the half-mad queen keeps seventeen rabbits in her bed chamber, one for each lost child, which is a joke in poor taste as well as being completely untrue.

       A much better program which features the life of Queen Anne is the BBC’s The First Churchills (1969) about the marriage of John and Sarah Churchill, who become the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough of the Blenheim Palace fame. It shows how the nurturing care Sarah lavishes on Anne from childhood to adulthood gradually becomes manipulative, albeit not sexual, due to Anne’s emotional vulnerability. It is Anne’s devotion to the headstrong Sarah which saves the Churchills throughout all the political turbulence. This turbulence involves the betrayal and overthrow of Anne’s own father James II. After John makes England victorious on the continent, Queen Anne builds Blenheim palace for her friends. They in turn support her amid a great deal of public and private turmoil. Anne endures the tragic deaths of husband and children with fortitude, although in her grief she falls under the influence of the enemies of John and Sarah. Sarah's outspoken ways finally alienate the Queen and the longstanding friendship is broken. Anne's death as the last of the de facto reigning Stuarts, bereft of family and her true friends, is one of the most truly heart-breaking scenes.

      As we witness convoluted gay-centered dramas served up for the masses we must keep in mind that when a people lose a sense of their history they become fodder for tyrants. A nation which has no idea of its own past becomes unmoored and a plaything for other countries. It becomes degraded, even as the loss of faith and moral fiber lead to degradation. While we Americans became an independent nation in 1776 we still have our roots in British Common law and to distort the history of those islands is to crush the foundation upon which our Republic stands. What is sad is that true history can be just as interesting and marketable as invented history if placed in the hands of clever and competent writers and filmmakers.


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    Mary-Eileen Russell

    Mary-Eileen Russell grew up in the countryside outside of Frederick, Maryland, "fair as the garden of the Lord" as the poet Whittier said of it. She graduated in 1984 from Hood College in Frederick with a BA in Psychology, and in 1985 from the State University of New York at Albany with an MA in Modern European History. She is the author of six books under the pen name of "Elena Maria Vidal." She lives in Talbot County, MD with her family.
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