Film Costuming – The Favourite

The Favourite is a beautiful looking film set in c. 1705. There are stunning wide angle shots especially of scenes at the sprawling Jacobean Hatfield House that stands in for Kensington Palace where the real story took place (Kensington was unavailable for filming as it currently houses a dozen or so members of the royal family.) The acting is also excellent, especially the parts played by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone. As for everything else — I have some issues…

The trailer implied this was a comedy – it is not. You could call it a dark comedy, but that would mean you find violence, sexual misconduct, bullying and all forms of behaviour that rely upon someone’s misfortune amusing. Also, the story is based on historical truth, but not the facts. The timeline of the actual events is compressed from over a decade to perhaps a year, and period gossip and innuendo is presented as having actually happened (the lesbianism subplot is pure conjecture.) This lack of historical accuracy bothered me at first but there are plenty of clues for the viewer to get that this is a loose interpretation – a re-styled version of history.

Someone who knows the period will spot that this is a superficially accurate period film. The costumes, which are very effective, are artistic re-imaginings of c. 1705 period dress. The costumer, Sandy Powell, uses a strict black and white palette, colours that were used minimally at the time for women’s court dress, and many anachronistic textiles and decorative techniques including laser-cut vinyl. Some gowns are pure imagination. Queen Anne’s white velvet gown with ermine tails was not based on anything the monarch ever wore. There are many images of Queen Anne wearing many different gowns, so this was a conscious decision to distort the truth. 

If you missed the fashion clues, there were other anachronisms and artistic licenses dotting the film. The dance sequence near the beginning includes moves from the gavotte, waltz, disco, and hip hop; the pooled draperies; visible hot air vents; flowers used in arrangements that weren’t yet introduced to English gardens…

So take this film with a grain of salt. It is beautifully styled, but so far from the facts that the only truth that remains are the names of the characters. The usual response to this type of criticism, which I often give, is that ‘It’s not a documentary’, and I agree. But must history be so fictionalized to make it interesting? In our world of alternative facts and truthiness, this film will become history by those who don’t google the facts.

Queen Anne in purple velvet and gold silk, 1702

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
This entry was posted in film costuming. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.