Three glorious films today: Olivia Coleman strutting her stuff as Queen Anne in The Favourite, Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant as a criminal pair in the true story of the forger, Lee Israel and John McEnroe as himself in an instructional sports documentary.
Whether entirely accurate historically, this was a lovely romp between three very different women and female actors. Rachel Weisz played Lady Malborough, the wife of the British warrior of Blenheim and the French Wars; Emma Stone played the wickedly scheming Abigail Hill, and Olivia Coleman the temperamental Queen.
Everything about this film was wonderful: gorgeous costumes, ridiculously extravagant hair – on the men especially – and lovely locations. Hampton Court for the kitchens and Hatfield House for much else.
The film was played for laughs, though there is a bitingly savage satire going on as one side plays off against the other, with a mixture of toadying, blackmailing and rampant sex.
Queen Anne, in history, was an unfortunate woman. She reigned over a newly unified country, Great Britain; her husband George of Denmark gave her many children all of whom died in infancy, then he himself died in 1708.
The statue marking her visit to St Paul’s Cathedral on the creation of the Acts of Union between England, Scotland and Ireland still stands outside the cathedral, and is more often than not mistaken for Queen Victoria.
She presided over a two-party parliament, which was in its early manifestation and not entirely successful, since the Queen had controlling influence over finance and the cabinet. After her husband’s death she came increasingly under the influence of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and as Sarah was of the same persuasion as her husband, that the war with France should continue until they sued for peace, this meant great increases in taxes.
Meanwhile Sarah’s cousin, the cunning little vixen, was conniving with the Opposition to have the taxes reduced, the Marlboroughs disgraced and Lord Godolphin’s Tory government deposed.
The occasional use of a fish-eye lens gives this film a strange sense of the surreal, which accentuates some of the more extremely scandalous behaviour of the Court, right up to the top levels.
My second film, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is another example of a good actor portraying, sympathetically, a seriously transgressive character. This film is the true story of a woman who forged and sold over 400 letters, purporting to be by celebrities like Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker and Emily Brice. When that activity came to grief, she began another career, replacing genuine letters in serious archives with copies. It is hard to know which of these two activities was the more reprehensible.
Cultural forgery, whether paintings or belles lettres is a very serious matter, and so it must have been challenging to make Lee Israel in any way tolerable, and yet the portrayal is one of empathy. She was clearly a lonely, unfulfilled woman and not without talent; she was a published author, but that source of income had dried up and her agent suggested she find some other way to make money.
An accidental find, while doing genuine research, leads to a highly successful source of income, with Jack Hock as her partner in crime.
Later on, Jack cooperates with the FBI investigation and Lee is caught At her trial she admits to having had the time of her life. She shows no remorse, only fury when she sees one of her own Dorothy Parker forgeries, authenticated as genuine, for sale at five times the price she was paid for it. She notified the seller, with a caustic letter of suitably Parkian vitriol.
The sports documentary which followed these two was odd, but brilliant. Hard to describe, but infinitely worth catching if you can.