They say fact is stranger than fiction and that is certainly true of the film The Favourite.
The plot revolves around the real life relationship between Queen Anne and two women – Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, and Abigail Masham.
Both women vied not only for Anne’s affection but for political power in her court.
Starring Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as Sarah and Emma Stone as Abigail, The Favourite, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, leads the Oscars race with 10 nominations along with Roma.
One of the film’s writers, Deborah Davis, came across the story in a London newspaper more than 20 years ago. She was surprised by the suggestion of a lesbian relationship between Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill and felt compelled to look into the veracity of the story.
She found original letters between Anne, Sarah and Abigail and was so convinced it would make a wonderful film that she went to film school to learn how to write a screenplay.
Fast forward two decades, she and fellow writer Tony McNamara have been nominated for the best original screenplay Oscar.
Davis told Sky News she found this period in history fascinating partly because of the potent relationship between the women which “never ceased to interest and puzzle” her, with the female triangle shifting “all the time in your mind so you never give up thinking about it”.
But she said it was also a unique time because so much power was controlled from Queen Anne’s bedchamber.
“I think this is the first reign and maybe the only reign where you have a Queen who is actually being guided and controlled by her female advisers and they’re not just advisers, they are favourites in the sense that she’s in emotional thrall to them,” said Davis.
Queen Anne’s original letters to Sarah are held in the British Library and show first-hand the relationship between the three.
One letter from Queen Anne to Sarah reads: “You poor unfortunate faithful Morley,” which is how the Queen referred to herself. “Loves you dearly, passionately, and sincerely, and knows the world too well… ever to be charmed with anybody but your dear self.”
According to the historian Kate Williams, the letters are “a treasure trove” which show the intensity of the fight for Anne’s affections.
Although they do not betray whether there was “an intimate sexual relationship”, Ms Williams said there was “no reason as to why there might not have been”.
She said: “We can actually see the reality of these women’s lives in these women’s letters and they are real bombshells. I’ve just been looking at them and they’re incredible… they show the relationship was a very, very intense, excitable, very emotional one.”
Agreeing with Davis, Ms Williams said that this period in history was quite extraordinary because of the power the women had.
The ladies of the bedchamber who normally would have been expected to brush hair and sort out the Queen’s dresses were “all powerful and all controlling”.
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