Costumes from a new feature film exploring the relationships and power struggles of Queen Anne and two of her closest female attendants will once again shine a light on this largely forgotten British monarch. Once a favoured home of Queen Anne, Kensington Palace was at the heart of court life for almost a century, and its wood-paneled Queen’s State Apartments still resonate with the drama and grandeur of the Stuart monarchs.
The first period film from director Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite explores Queen Anne’s intimate relations with her life-long friend and political advisor Lady Sarah Churchill, and Sarah’s impoverished cousin turned chambermaid Abigail. Starring BAFTA winner Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, alongside Oscar winning actresses Emma Stone (Abigail Hill) and Rachel Weisz (Sarah Churchill), The film charts the ruthless rivalry between Sarah and Abigail as they vie for the Queen’s favour and the all-important power conferred by capturing the affections of the monarch.
The film’s lavish costumes have been designed by three-time Oscar winning costume designer Sandy Powell, who has worked with Fox Searchlight Pictures and Historic Royal Palaces – the independent charity which cares for Kensington Palace – on creating a display in the historic Queen’s Gallery, once used by Anne and her husband for exercise during bad weather.
This specially curated exhibit will showcase Powell’s bold visual approach to evoking court fashions on screen, and provide a sneak peek at what cinema-goers can expect when the film opens in the UK on 1 January.
Taking inspiration from 18th century silhouettes, visitors will be able to discover how Powell and her team experimented with colour, fabric and design to create a stylized look that combines denim, laser-cut vinyls and even African prints. She made outfits for the servant class out of foraged denim and used laser-cut fabrics like vinyl in place of more frivolous silk or lace. All this made for an aesthetic that Powell has called the “punk rock” version of a royal court at the turn of the 18th century.
Each costume will be complemented by quotes from Powell, alongside historic context provided by Historic Royal Palaces curator Matthew Storey to help visitors uncover the fascinating story of Anne’s reign. The 150 costumes made for the film were altered to accentuate the characters’ needs. For instance, Anne’s robe—which is made from a chenille bedspread Powell found on eBay—is meant to give the socially awkward queen something comfortable to drape herself with, like a security blanket.
The exhibition at Kensington will include information about how the costumes were made, along with historic context on the queen and her courtiers.
“At Historic Royal Palaces, we’ve been wanting to tell Queen Anne’s story for a while,” Matthew Storey, a curator for Historic Royal Palaces, told The Telegraph. “We’ve been doing a lot of research into how we can tell diverse stories, especially LGBT stories, and Queen Anne is a key person for that.”
In the film, the political powerplay between the women often took place in the bedroom. Though TIME’s Wilder Davies reports there’s no definitive proof that Anne and Sarah were sexually involved in real life, as depicted in the film, Julie Crawford, a professor at Columbia University, who studies the history of sexuality, tells The Cut that the same-sex erotic relationships featured in The Favourite used to curry Anne’s political favor would have been considered “totally unremarkable” in the pre-modern period.
Powell was working with a more pared-down budget than she’d had on some of her more elaborate productions, and was given about five weeks to pull together costumes for every principle and extra on set. The director wasn’t fixated on historical accuracy in The Favourite’s costumes, which left Powell with room to play. For inspiration, he referred her to Cries and Whispers, a Swedish period drama by Ingmar Bergman that’s set at the end of the 19th century. She swapped out the opulent colors typical of elite attire in 1708 in favor of a heavily black-and-white palette.
From Fox Searchlight Pictures, Film4 and Waypoint Entertainment, an Element Pictures/Scarlet Films Production, The Favourite is released in cinemas across the UK and Ireland on January 1st 2019.