Last night I watched The Favourite, a drama based on actual historical occurrences, and one of the movies nominated for best picture in the Oscar race this year. It was, on the surface, a weird film. The weirdness had to do with: the fantastical costumes of the 17th century, (men in long, curly wigs with red beauty patches on their cheeks); the recreation of Lordly aristocrats (they seemed to enjoy pummeling a bewigged nude man with apples); and an instance of ballroom dancing (whereby a Lord twirled his partner around his waist aka Dancing with the Stars and then proceeded to crawdad-walk the length of the ballroom). The fascination of the film though was its theme: the limits of sex to gain power or to comfort.
Every advertiser knows the power of sex: sex sells. You may be reading this blog because you saw the word “sex” in the title.
Frankly, when I was a much younger woman, I, like many women, used my sex appeal to influence.
As a twenty-something living on an isolated desert farm, I dreamed of becoming a journalist and writing for a newspaper. Without any experience or education in journalism, I wrote seven newspaper columns about a city girl’s life on the farm. When I marched into the newsroom of our local newspaper with my columns in hand, I had on my prettiest dress and most charming smile. The city news desk editor took notice (I could tell). He may have liked what I wrote, but I also think he was influenced by what he saw. A week later I got a call telling me the newspaper was interested in publishing my work.
In the movie, The Favourite, Queen Anne of Great Britain is horribly depressed. She’s lost her husband and endured 17 failed pregnancies. What is a queen’s value in the 1700’s if not to produce an heir (or even, in Great Britain today—consider how overjoyed everyone is that Prince William’s wife, Kate Middleton, has been reliably fertile).
Queen Anne is easy pickings for the machinations of her assistant, Lady Sarah, and her chamber maid, Abigail, who both vie for Anne’s favor in the hope of gaining power. They coddle Anne and respond to her every whim, including providing sex. Ironically, considering Anne’s barren condition, sex appears to be the most effective manipulation.
I was both fascinated and repulsed watching Queen Anne try to comfort herself by eating cake until she vomited into the vomit bucket, or quietly sob as she participated in yet another meaningless sexual experience.
It was like watching someone with an appendix attack try to staunch the pain by riding a roller coaster. Thrills are not going to solve Anne’s problem. Sadly, in the film Queen Anne never overcomes her depression, and the aristocratic women prostituting themselves for her end up trapped in that role. Here’s a movie (or a piece of history) I would gladly rewrite. In my ending Queen Anne would find something she obviously and desperately needed: a genuine friend. This person would ask nothing of her—and give nothing to her—except real love. I’d call it a fairy-tale ending.
Image credit: The Favourite