Best Actress—
at the— Oscars

Stories about women and by women were recognised at the recent Oscars. Below a comparison of a worthy winner (The Favourite) and nominee (Can you ever forgive me?) to inspire you to if you’ve not already seen them!

by Rosie Mills

 
Oscars article

The Oscars are in their 91st year. In that time they’ve been no stranger to controversy: from the #timesup campaign to a native American refusing Marlon Brando’s award.

Since 2006, the Women’s Media Centre has kept track of the numbers of the female nominees. Outside the acting awards, this year they made up 25% across directing, cinematography, editing, original score and visual effects.

In their history, a woman has been nominated for best director only five times (Lina Wertmüller - 1976 Seven Beauties, Jane Campion - 1993 The Piano, Sofia Coppola - 2003 Lost in Translation, Katherine Bigelow - 2009 The Hurt Locker, Greta Gertwig - 2017 Ladybird) with just one win in that time by Katherine Bigelow (of brofest Point Break fame) for the story of soldiers during conflict in Iraq.

My own incredibly short lived film career came to an abrupt end in 2001 with the realisation that the industry wasn’t compatible with impending motherhood. Diversity and gender equality is beginning to gain traction in cinema because of audience expectations. As consumers, we hold the commercial power in this being the future normality and it would be interesting to explore how we (women, who make most of purchasing decisions) can exercise this to change Hollywood and beyond. 

 

The Favourite 

The Favourite is an unusual and glorious interpretation of a real-life 18th century royal power struggle (though if your idea of period drama is Keira Knightly gazing tearfully into the sunset, this isn’t for you).

Sometimes loose with historical facts, The Favourite tells the story of a physically and emotionally frail Queen Anne’s closest and most complex relationships. 

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(For those whom 18th century British history isn’t their specialist subject: England is at war with France, a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne while her close friend and lover Lady Sarah governs the country.)

Viewer’s loyalties are challenged as we watch Anne’s affections manipulated by Lady Sarah and a new servant, Abigail (who has fallen on hard times and sees the patronage as a chance to return to her aristocratic roots). None of the three main characters are entirely likeable, each has a wonky moral compass, they’ve all experienced tragedy, they’re women for whom survival is a driver. And it is all the more glorious for it.

Queen Anne – played brilliantly, and entirely without the vanity which undercuts so many otherwise great films – experienced child loss 17 times and was deeply vulnerable. Her relationship with Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) is overwhelmingly complex – offering each love, tenderness, control, isolation, bullying and fear. The balance of power swings between them. Lady Sarah’s manipulation and management of the Queen to support her political agenda is uncomfortable to watch.

Abigail (Emma Stone), a cousin of Sarah’s, arrives and almost immediately throws this uncomfortable equilibrium off balance. She is smart, equally self-serving and works to supplant Lady Sarah in the Queen’s affections.

The interior scenes are connected by roaring fires which feel like an elegant metaphor for the three women’s repressed will; their lack of voice and the refusal to hear.

The skill of these three wonderful actresses and director Yorgos Lanthimos means that the dark interplay between the three women is also funny and sad and loving and more complex than the (female) relationships we are used to seeing and ultimately unutterable compelling. 

 

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Can you ever forgive me?

Can you ever forgive me? is the story of irascible Lee Israel, a published author with past success, a drink problem and no social graces. As an inability to write and sell books bites in the early 1990’s, her agent tells her to find an alternative way to make money, which she does by creating forgeries of letters from literary greats such as Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker. As she begins her criminal career, she gains a drinking buddy in Jack Hock.  

This film is a perfect vehicle for Melissa McCarthy, an actress who by choice or lack of it, is frequently type cast, to show her enormous skills. Likewise, Richard E Grant’s performance as Jack Hock, an impeccably dressed Englishman in New York who likes drink, drugs and pretty young men. (Although it will cause Withnail and I flashbacks.)

Like The Favourite, these are not particularly likeable people: Lee is unable to allow people to get close and struggles with social interactions. Yet Jack likes and cares for her, his enthusiastic flamboyance offset by Lee’s caustic dryness. As Lee saturates the market with her fake letters, creating the notoriously acerbic responses for the famous letter writers, we find ourselves urging them to succeed.