Monday Motivation: When the opportunities for conflict are endless…
Our local is just a short walk away from our boat in Priory Marina in Bedford. Local cinema, that is. (Our local pub is even closer.) Yesterday evening we took advantage of our proximity to stroll down to see The Favourite, which is enjoying a little pre-Oscar buzz at the moment, after five nominations (and one win) at the Golden Globes.
The one Golden Globe that the movie garnered went to Olivia Coleman for her role as Queen Anne. The good queen, who reigned at the turn of the eighteenth century, was by turn wistful, vulnerable, sexually voracious, disdainful, queenly, spiteful and a screeching harridan. Coleman got all this – and more – absolutely right.
But what intrigued me wasn’t simply the quality of the performances, but the fact that the story featured three women. Three powerful women. To find a film built around a single strong female character is rare enough – but to stumble across one that has three of them is quite startling, and hugely refreshing.
I know, of course that there’s a huge difference between films – and especially Hollywood films, or at least films with half an eye on a mainstream audience – and books. Film producers believe that they’ll attract a greater audience with a good male hero than they would with a female. So though, of course, there are many movies with female heroes – think Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, Ellen Ripley in Alien – they’re in a distinct minority.
But what’s really distinctive about The Favourite is the fact that there are three powerful female characters around which the narrative swirls: the protean queen herself, the monomaniacal Duchess of Marlborough, and the skittish, scheming, inconstant Abigail Masham.
What makes the chemistry of these three characters work so well, what lends it to drama, is the fact that they are so different, and locked into such apparently inescapable conflictual relationships one with the other. The Duchess and Abigail are rivals for the queen’s favour – each is the other’s antagonist. And given the fickleness of the queen, and her propensity to withdraw her favours without notice from either or both of her favourites, the potential for conflict is practically infinite.
Now that could almost be called a recipe for compelling fiction of any kind. If the basic architecture of your story features individuals whose positions in the power matrix compel them to regard each other as rivals, then you’ll never be short of drama.
Two characters who yearn for promotion to the same position; two lovers who have fixed their eye on the same subject; two flat-seekers who each wish to rent the same desirable apartment; two cops who each wish to win accolades for cracking the same high-profile case… The situations are endless.