The pathetic Olivia Colman scene that defines ‘The Favourite’
(Credit: Netflix)

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The pathetic Olivia Colman scene that defines ‘The Favourite’

Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone are currently on their Oscar journey for the critically acclaimed Poor Things. But it is a different Lanthimos and Stone collaboration—because that’s how seamless Lanthimos creations come off—that is currently shaking up the Netflix top ten films chart globally. This one also stars the inimitable Olivia Colman as Queen Anne and the effervescently acerbic Rachel Weisz as Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough.

In Lanthimos’ darkly comedic masterpiece, The Favourite, Colman’s Queen Anne commands the screen with a complex portrayal encompassing repulsion, pathos, and even absurdity. Set in early 18th-century England, the film explores the complex power dynamics between cousins Sarah Churchill and Abigail Masham (played by Stone), who vie for the affections and favouritism of the Queen. 

However, it’s a specific scene that encapsulates the power dynamics and intricate web of manipulation woven by the film’s trio of protagonists and becomes the defining moment in the film. Incidentally, it was also the first scene from the film that attained virality—spurring memes, printed tees and hats with the catchphrase of the moment, “You look like a badger.”

The scene unfolds early on as we see Queen Anne attempting a statement look to impress the Russian ambassador. Sporting the rather gothic but blotchy, black eyeshadow and a ghostly powdered face, she limps towards Lady Sarah and asks her if she likes the new look. The moment, devoid of any dramatic music, takes a scathing turn when Lady Sarah simply and soberly declares, “You look like a badger.” The insult cuts deep, and we immediately know all about the power hierarchy in this relationship.

Queen Anne’s attempt to conform to courtly fashion becomes a subtle symbol of her desperation to fit in and maintain control, but also her yearning for adoration and validation. Makeup artist Nadia Stacey’s insight into the scene explains how Queen Anne’s misguided attempt is supposed to look childish and incompetent, as she told Vox, “She’s trying to be as fashionable as the women in the court, but she got someone to do it, and she didn’t get it right.”

However, as Cersei Lannister famously said, “Power is power.” So, Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne instantly has to set the dynamics straight. On her way back to her room, Queen Anne charges at the young guard near the door, first questioning him, then demanding that he look at her and immediately lashing out at him for daring to do so.

In this one moment, all that needs to be revealed about the dawdling monarch and The Favourite is laid bare. Queen Anne is repellent, pathetic, scabrous, and comical, and she holds the ultimate power, and power can be just as easily manipulated as it is manipulative. The “Look at me” scene becomes a microcosm of the larger power struggle within the court, setting the tone for the intricate dance that ensues throughout the film, always restrained but scandalous nonetheless.

You can watch The Favourite on Netflix and catch this iconic scene here: