Queen Anne is a troubled woman. Having lost 17 children she is emotionally damaged. But she is a strong woman in many ways too, a queen steering her nation through difficult political days, caught up in an expensive and protracted war with Spain. However she’s insecure at times, and unwell with painful gout. Sarah Churchill is her close friend and confidante, and her eyes and ears in public. She too is a strong woman, plus she is socially better equipped and far more mobile. And not afraid to speak her mind, even to the Queen.
Then one day Abigail pitches up at the palace, a woman from a high station who has since fallen on hard times. She begins life there as a humble kitchen maid, but it’s not long before she grabs the attention of the Queen, and though at first she and Sarah form a friendship, as time passes this begins to turn sour as dark competition develops between them. All will surely not end well. This is a disturbing tale of manipulation and the lust for attention and power, people using their skills and prowess to better their own position. Both women vie for the Queen’s attentions, using her as a pawn in their own palatial games. Sex is used as a weapon, and no one’s taking any prisoners.
Song of Songs, the Biblical love poem, uses the metaphor of intimacy in a very different way, the antithesis of the story playing out in The Favourite. Love and courtship in Solomon’s writings represent a caring relationship between God and his people. One that will make life better, not worse. Tenderness and respect fill the pages here, and the oft-repeated line is this: ‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.’ Mutual, trust and caring, laced with a healthy vulnerability. Love woos, beckons, uplifts and brings confidence. Reading this book after watching The Favourite is a jolting experience, but a good one too. It reminds us that intimacy is not a cruel, manipulative thing. Our longing to be known and understood and appreciated is expressed here, in fact all that we seek in a healthy relationship with God, is laid out in this poetic telling. The poem is rich with sensual metaphors, and deliberately so. This is a loving God who knows and understands everything about us, not just the bits we call ‘spiritual’ but every part of us, the bits we like and the bits we don’t, the bits we celebrate and the bits we hide. Understandably we do not talk of many aspects of our lives, how can we in a harsh world. But the courts of our God are not like the courts of Queen Anne. In the words of Paul in Acts 17 v 28, ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’ All we are is in him, and nothing is off limits, we can bring all we are, and ask for his help, and for his love, for his fresh starts and acceptance.