Acknowledgements: Thanks to my readers at Jump Cut for their helpful, insightful commentary on an earlier version of this essay. Thanks also to Charles Kantor, with whom I first saw The Favourite. After the credit roll, we immediately started discussing its politics.
1. Colman is quoted in Malina Saval, “Olivia Colman Compares Donald Trump to the ‘Madness … and Instability’ of Queen Anne,” Variety.com (January 4, 2019): https://variety.com/2019/scene/awards/olivia-colman-donald-trump-palm-springs-the-favourite-1203099226/. [return to page 1]
3. See Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (New York: Oxford UP, 1983). “Nature” might be one of the most complex terms in Williams’s Keywords. However, early in his entry, Williams invokes Burke, one of the originators of political conservatism, to provide a definition of nature as “an essential quality and characteristic of human beings to do something,” a fixed core of humanity that rejects constructivism and external social engineering (220). See also J.G.A. Pocock, Virtue, Commerce, and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985). The idea of nature as a telos from which humanity cannot depart underpins a theory of eighteenth-century civic virtue. According to J.G.A. Pocock, by the late seventeenth century, prominent Whigs—proponents of “active self-rule”—had accepted and internalized these preconditions and restrictions as the companion to liberty" (41).
4. For the film as a depiction of historical events, see Justin Kirkland, “The Lesbian Storyline in The Favourite Is Rooted in Fact,” Esquire.com (February 24, 2019): https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/
for the garish and odd style of the film, see Eliza Brooke, “The Strange, Beautiful, Gross Aesthetic of The Favourite,” Vox.com (February 21, 2019): https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/2/21/18233815/favourite-oscars-visual-costumes-makeup-cake.
5. See David Marno, “Center Court,” The L.A. Review of Books (December 28, 2018): https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/center-court. Marno reads the politics of the film in almost the opposite way that I do, as a film that “remind[s] us that the court is not a primitive version of modern political power but an altogether different institution, one that grounds power in the sovereign’s body.” I claim that the film stages the current rebirth of this very principle—even to the level of its “primitive” iconography and practices.
6. For an early modern example of the state designed around empirical knowledge—and employing spies to gather it—see Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis (1626), in Francis Bacon and Thomas Campanella, The New Atlantis and The City of the Sun: Two Classic Utopias (Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 2003), esp. 38-9. “For the several employments and offices of our fellows,” says a rector of Bacon’s powerful Solomon House, “we have twelve that sail into foreign countries under the names of other nations (for our own we conceal), who bring us the books and abstracts, and patterns of experiments of all other parts” (38). See also Frederick G. Whelan, Hume and Machiavelli: Political Realism and Liberal Thought (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2004), 284.
7. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan and his technical choices are mentioned in Chris O'Falt, “’The Favourite’: Oscar Nod Likely for DP Robbie Ryan, But Damned If He Knows Why,” Indiewire.com (December 12, 2018): https://www.indiewire.com/2018/12/the-favourite-cinematographer-robbie-ryan-yorgos-lanthimos-1202027430/.
8. This is not to say that the static, picturesque images in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon are uninteresting. Critics regularly point to the tension that the film establishes between narrative—or historical—forward motion and the inertia produced by the cultural rituals and aristocratic conventions in which Lyndon participates, an inertia typified by the still shot. For example, see J.P. Telotte, “The Organic Narrative: Word and Image in Barry Lyndon,” Film Criticism 3.3 (1979): 18-31.
9. See Michael Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1995), 27, 218. “…[P]ower and knowledge directly imply one another,” says Foucault, “...there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does no presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations” (27). [return to page 2]
10. Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, trans. Colin Gordon, Leo Marshall, John Mepham, Kate Soper (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), 34. For Foucault, modern power/knowledge, or pouvoir-savoir (233), takes two shapes, “the power of knowledge of the truth and the power to disseminate this knowledge” (34).
11. Foucault, Power/Knowledge, 146-65.
12. I am thinking of Laura Mulvey’s classic claim that cinematic voyeurism takes place between men and women, binary subjects that constitute one another. See Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen, vol. 16, No.3 (1975), 6-18. For a queering of this concept—and a retort to Mulvey’s idea of “sadistic” voyeurism— see Barbara Mennel, The Representation of Masochism and Queer Desire in Film and Literature, (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), 154-7.
14. Angelos Koutsourakis, “Cinema of the Body,” Cinema, vol. 3 (2012), 84-108, 99.
15. Koutsourakis, “Cinema of the Body,” 85, 95.
16. Koutsourakis, “Cinema of the Body,” 96.
17. For the split between the king’s “body natural” and “body politic” in medieval political theory, see Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2016), 7-23.
18. Kantorowicz, King’s Two Bodies, 13.
19. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988), 161.
20. Heather Keenleyside, Animals and Other People: Literary Forms and Living Beings in the Long Eighteenth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 18.
21. Tobias Meneley, The Animal Claim: Sensibility and the Creaturely Voice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 99. [return to page 3]
22. Alexander Pope, Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998), 24-5.
23. Meneley, The Animal Claim, 99.
24. Pope, Selected Poetry, 23.
25. Pope, Selected Poetry, 29, 24.
26. Davis is quoted in Matt Grober, “Screenwriters Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara Break Down Their Long, Gratifying Journeys With ‘The Favourite,’” Deadline.com (January 13, 2019): https://deadline.com/2019/01/the-favourite-deborah-davis-tony-mcnamara-oscars-screenwriting-interview-1202520990/.
27. Pocock, Virtue, Commerce, and History, 239.
28. Peter Bradshaw, "The Favourite Review," The Guardian (August 30, 2018): https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/aug/30/the-favourite-review-olivia-colman-yorgos-lanthimos.
29. I associate these “original” conservative qualities with Edmund Burke’s defense of European constitutional monarchy in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Especially relevant are Burke’s thoughts on the supernatural qualities of the French Revolution. Despite chiding the revolutionaries for operating on the principle of “speculation”—and going beyond the bounds of known systems of practices—Burke locates the strength of the old regime in its ability to produce “pleasing illusions” that would soften and restrain the population (114). See Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (London: J. Dodsley, 1791), throughout. See also Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2018), 70-1.
30. Robin, The Reactionary Mind, 56.
31. Robin, The Reactionary Mind, 194.
32. Burke, Reflections, 114.
33. Burke, Reflections, 255, 115.
34. Burke, Reflections, 118.
35. Burke, Reflections, 114.
36. Burke, Reflections, 115, 118.
37. Ronald Brownstein, “Donald Trump’s Coalition of Restoration,” The Atlantic (June 23, 2016): https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/06/donald-trumps-coalition-of-restoration/488345/.
38. Ronald Brownstein, “America, a Year Later,” State Magazine (November 2017): https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2017/politics/state/2016-election-anniversary/.
39. For the black-and-white thinking that legitimated the Iraq war, see “Remarks by Donald Rumsfeld at the 2005 Washington Conference on the Americas,” (May 3, 2005), transcript: https://www.as-coa.org/articles/remarks-donald-rumsfeld-2005-washington-conference-americas. George W. Bush used the phrase “axis of evil” for the first time in his 2002 state of the union. See “President Delivers State of the Union Address” (January 29, 2002), transcript: https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020129-11.html. He used the phrase “coalition of the willing” later that year, in a speech at a NATO summit in Prague. See “Bush: Join 'coalition of willing,'” CNN.com (November 20, 2002): http://edition.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/europe/11/20/prague.bush.nato/.
40. See Adam Serwer, “The Cruelty is the Point,” The Atlantic (October 3, 2018): https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/the-cruelty-is-the-point/572104/. “It is that cruelty,” says Serwer, “and the delight it brings them, that binds [the president’s] most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright.”
41. For a searchable repository of all of the 45th U.S. President’s tweets, see “Trump Twitter Archive,”https://www.thetrumparchive.com/, visited July 2019.
42. There is another allegory of modernity here. Even though Anne could represent a revanchist government premised on restoring strict social hierarchy, she might also symbolize the modern political shift away from edicts and laws and towards the overt control of bodies. In other words, she may be a consummate representation of, as Cary Wolfe has shown, a polis centered on biopolitics instead of sovereignty (24). Invested in the relationship between non-human animals and political subjectivity, Wolfe’s scholarship also clarifies, among other aspects, the film’s culinary motifs. Known for her unrestrained diet, Anne illustrates the “‘carnophallogocentrism’” reserved for a head of state, the one who can eat anything they want and, by extension, exerts ultimate authority over others (95). See Cary Wolfe, Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in a Biopolitical Frame (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).
43. In her review of The Favourite, Namwali Serpell also sees the film’s complex representation of “beasts” and humans as licensing a "complex, contradictory" feminism affiliated with “real women.” See Namwali Serpell, “Beastly: The Bad Women of The Favourite,” New York Review of Books (December 9, 2018): https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/12/09/beastly-the-bad-women-of-the-favourite/.