With 10 Oscar nominations, including best picture and best director, The Favourite leads the trend for historical films that are reinventing the genre, writes Emma Jones.
Olivia Colman, an Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner for her performance as Queen Anne in The Favourite, tells the BBC she believes that the historical film has “reinvented the genre. It’s messy and you can almost smell the period it’s set in.”
The reputed love affair between Queen Anne and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough has become a hot favourite for awards season too – apart from the Globe win, the film has received 10 Oscar nominations and is up for 12 Baftas
The Favourite has triumphed over an unusually large number of historical films that have been released in recent months. Period pieces can be hard to get off the ground, as costumes, castles and
cavalry don’t come cheap: in recent film history, only epics such as Braveheart (1995) and Gladiator (2000) have enjoyed budgets of more than $100 million (£77.5 million). These movies brought home the Oscars, but too often the genre ends up as a noble runner-up, including Elizabeth (1998); The Lion in Winter (1968) and even 1963’s Cleopatra, at the time the most expensive film ever made. And as Ridley Scott discovered, five Oscars for Gladiator and a proven genius for shooting military battle scenes still couldn’t rescue his widely ignored Crusade epic Kingdom of Heaven in 2005.
ompeting with The Favourite is Josie Rourke’s drama about a better-known monarch, Mary Queen of Scots. Netflix spent $120 million (£93 million) on William Wallace’s rival Robert the Bruce in The Outlaw King, while Mike Leigh devoted over 150 minutes to Peterloo, about a political massacre that took place in Britain in 1819. In France, Pierre Schoeller made Un peuple et son roi, which spans from the storming of the Bastille in 1789 to the execution of King Louis in 1792.
Ironically, it’s recent history that enabled many of these films to be made.
“The focus in history films has typically been through a white male lens with the focus on a white ‘saviour’ figure,” explains Larushka Ivan-Zadeh, chief film critic for the Metro newspaper. “The thrilling change recently is that the lens and focus are changing and we are finally getting non-white, non-male perspectives on history.” [ . . . ]