The Favourite is a period film that has no real date. It loosely takes place during the early 18th century reign of England’s Queen Anne, a time of war, scientific innovation, and the development of a two-party parliamentary system. But Yorgos Lanthimos’ vision trades in traditional accuracy for mesmerising whimsy — and really, who needs history when you’ve got Joe Alwyn’s dance moves?
The result is a visual feast that takes its cues from Alice in Wonderland: You’ve got an emotionally unstable, lonely queen (Olivia Colman), two viciously smart women vying her affections and attention (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz), and a whole lot of wonderfully weird animals doing fanciful things in the middle of a palace. Courtiers in towering wigs battle boredom by throwing oranges at a naked man, while in the royal suite above, Anne stuffs her mouth with bright blue birthday cake.
It’s decadent and weird, and someone had to bring it all to life. Enter Fiona Crombie, who, along with set designer Alice Felton, is nominated for an Oscar in Production Design, one of The Favourite’s 10 overall nods from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. On Sunday, she took home a BAFTA for her work on the film, and she deserves it!
The Favourite presents a particular challenge for a production designer, responsible for creating a look that represents the real aesthetic of the time, while allowing for the debauched, luxurious innovations and quirks specific to the film. (For example, wheelchairs like the one Queen Anne uses wouldn’t have existed then — it had to be imagined from scratch to meld seamlessly with the rest of the decor.)
Crombie met Lanthimos in 2012, and was sent a version of the script three years later, in 2015. In other words, she’s been thinking about her vision for the wild world of Queen Anne’s court for quite some time, down to the most minute details. With only £1.3 million for her budget, Crombie’s job description included everything from designing the piles of beautiful cookies that adorn handcrafted side tables, to creating spaces for the film’s most unsung heroes: Queen Anne’s 17 pet rabbits, and her courtiers’ team of competitive duck athletes. And because of Lanthimos’ use of wide angle lenses, there was no room for error.
Read on for a crash course in turning a state room into a race track for stylish water fowl, the secret to caring for royal pets, and why scale is Crombie’s secret weapon.