One thing we don’t cover about history, is how bad everything was, and just how recently. The era covered in today’s video (ca. 1710-1711) came AFTER the United Kingdom’s great revolution in governance. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 supposedly set in motion the chain of events that gave us modern parliamentary democracy. This country subjected to the mad whims of a love triangle was one of the freest and best run in the world at the time. After Queen Anne’s death, the British crown was given to a bunch of German protestants, who initially didn’t even speak English, helping constitutional development along. But as recently as 105 years ago, most powerful countries in the world were subjected to personal rule of one degree or another.
Royalty discredited itself by leading us into the disaster that was World War One, and what was true 105 years ago was not true 95 years ago. Kings quickly slipped away, but we really seem to miss them, in defiance of all history and logic. The current discontent with our representative institutions in Europe and the United States leads me to believe that this warping of history is hurting us. We don’t realize just how much worse things were, and just how recently.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there… Last week I saw The Favourite, and I think it may be the best movie about Royalty that has ever been made. I highly recommend it, but I don’t think it’s the comedy it’s being sold as. Most of the reviews have focused on how entertaining it is. The performances are flawless, and the writing is mercilessly funny. It’s an infinitely quotable film, and in portraying the love triangle between three very powerful women, it could be seen as progressive in some ways. All that is true, but that’s not really the way I saw it. I think the Favourite is a Horror film.
Some commentators have questioned why the LGBT nature of the material wasn’t more front and center in the promotional material, but I think that it was the right choice. This wasn’t a positive portrayal, it was an illustration of three profoundly damaged and damaging individuals doing each other even more damage. The horror here is that these folks were running a country, and making decisions about life and death for millions, based in large part on how their love lives were going. That’s really the way that most of the world was run for much of human history since the advent of farming. A couple thugs on top got to do what they wanted and it was horrible for almost everybody else. We don’t see that in movies much.
It may seem like the film is exaggerated, and some of it definitely is, but the United Kingdom’s war policy, and it’s choice of commander in chief really did depend on the state of Queen Anne’s relationship with Winston Churchill’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandma. Queen Anne wasn’t alone in this. We owe the modern British parliament to the fact that British kings kept marrying Catholics that their protestant subjects hated. And don’t get me started on the world-historically nightmarish selfishness of Henry VIII. Monarchy is an insane way to run a country, and the way that the Favourite relentlessly illustrates that fact is more than a bit genius.
We are supposedly far beyond individual leadership now. Most of the world’s people live in countries that at least pretend to be run according to the will of the people, and most decisions are usually made for more worthwhile reasons that the personal interactions of our leaders. But you wouldn’t know it from our popular culture. We seem to desperately want some kind of nobility to look up to. Even though most of the few remaining royal families are largely powerless, we spend a great deal of emotional energy on their ridiculousness. This weird ambivalence extends to our movies and TV shows.
Take Braveheart for example. Robert the Bruce, the Scottish king that betrays our hero is still portrayed as a good guy. Netflix just gave him a new movie this year. It was too boring for me to finish, but the position of the movie was clearly that this guy who got multiple armies massacred, broke every oath he ever made, and murders a dude in a church is the good guy. Because he’s a king, and kings are glorious!
HBO’s Game of Thrones is probably the property that does the most to shape and express what we think of aristocrats and monarchs today. On the surface it’s super cynical. It’s largely about a pack of murderous, incestuous thugs stabbing everybody in the back, and slaughtering thousands to get what they want. But in the world of the show, the worst thing about the bad guys is the fact that they get in the way of nice people like the Starks and Queen Daenerys who deserve to rule.
There is clearly something at the root of our culture that still yearns for a good king to come and save us.
Game of thrones, Braveheart, and most other pop culture depictions of royalty include bad kings and good kings, but they still depict worlds where rule by kings can be fundamentally good and right. It isn’t. What makes the Favourite so great is the way that it depicts what day to day rule by kings and queens really was like the vast majority of the time.
The gorgeous settings are warped by a fish eye lens that makes everything revolve around whatever desperately unhappy schemer the particular scene is focused on. Rule by kings and queens warps countries and peoples as well. For once Hollywood has produced a film that shows what Monarchy actually is. It’s a horror movie. Everyone involved with the Favourite should be applauded for getting it out there…
Thanks for watching, please subscribe, and click the bell next to the subscribe button to get notifications whenever I upload a video.