After seeing Yorgos Lanthimos‘s absurdist court drama “The Favourite,” viewers have a lot of questions. Mostly about the rabbits. And that ending.
Moviepaws did some digging to find out just what the rabbits signify and what filming with them was like. (And how one scene made Emma Stone cry for an hour.)
1. Did the real Queen Anne keep rabbits?
In the film, Anne (Olivia Colman) has 17 pet rabbits, one for each child she’s lost. As Lanthimos told Esquire, “This was one of the elements that we took the liberty of adding in. We felt that we needed some kind of visualization of this woman’s loss, but that it shouldn’t be too dark—that it should have more of a light feel. So that’s how the bunnies came about.”
According to History Extra, “Pet rabbits would never have been found lolloping around a royal bedchamber: they were an early 18th-century foodstuff and pest.”
2. Were the rabbits real?
Very much so. As Colman told The Daily Mail, “They were real rabbits. Real incontinent rabbits… When they were in bed with you they just wee-d.” Emma Stone, who plays Abigail in the film, told EW, “They do pee a lot. So, I think when Olivia was in bed with them, she was feeling little wet patches every once in a while.”
3. How were the rabbits to work with, other than that?
Stone told EW, “You’d think they’d be divas because they’re so beautiful, but they were very, very personable. They were incredibly sweet.” She and Colman quickly found their own “favourite,” among the bunnies, which they named Strawberry after the character Olivia voiced in the new “Watership Down.”
4. Who supplied the rabbits?
Gerry Cott of A-Z Animals in the UK was the animal coordinator for the film. The site touts itself as “the pre-eminent rabbit and bunny talent agency in the UK and Europe.” (They also supply several other kinds of animals.)
5. Were there really 17 rabbits in the film?
Production designer Fiona Crombie told Deadline: “I think we sometimes had 17, and sometimes a few less, because it was controlled. There was a rule about how many could be in the cages. Originally, we had four cages, and then we brought it down to three, but for all intents and purposes, there’s meant to be 17. I think that depending on the shot, they would bring them in and out. They all were the same rabbits; they made it through the shoot. They didn’t have to switch them out or anything.”
6. How did the crew wrangle all those bunnies?
“They had lots of lovely space,” Colman says. “They would just nod off and fall asleep and cuddle up in those lovely hutches, and they had a ball when they were out of the hutches. The crew had to use little fences to corral them.”
7. Were the rabbit hutches custom-built?
Yes. Explains Crombie, “My set decorator and I had such a fun time… In the rabbit cages, we had little terrenes full of grass, and really undersized carrots. We just thought we were hilarious. Where the rabbit cages generally lived, we had a little grooming table, little water jug, and everything was miniature for the Queen to be able to play, almost like a doll’s house… No one will ever see this, but the bottom of the rabbit cage is a replica floor of the corridor; so we did it all with inlaid wood, like a little doll house version of the palace. We just played with things like that for our amusement, really.”
And now for the SPOILERS:
7. Emma Stone didn’t really hurt a rabbit in that scene, did she?
Abigail cozies up to the rabbits to ingratiate herself with Anne, something Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) never did. The ploy works, allowing Abigail to become as powerful an influence on Anne as Sarah has been. But we learn near the end of the film that she actually hates the bunnies. In one scene, a rabbit sits at her feet and she steps on it, smiling as it squeals.
Stone told ET, “I cried my eyes out for about an hour” after filming.
She explained to EW, “It didn’t hurt the rabbit what I had to do, but it was just the concept of it made me sick to my stomach. It’s also just such a great moment for that character, because you realize in that moment, she is at a point of cruelty to something so small and vulnerable, and it’s just to exercise her power. I understood the necessity of it, because you see in that moment, she’s just so far gone that she’s willing to do this when she’s already gotten what she wants. It’s just a gross, unredeemable moment.”
8. So what does the ending mean?
In the final scene, Anne places her foot on Abigail as Abigail had done with the rabbit, not minding her discomfort. And then the screen fills with rabbits! What does it mean?
Here’s a few insightful articles about the symbolism at play here:
Vulture: “Sarah criticized the rabbits as sentimental and macabre; Abigail, on the other hand, used them to ingratiate herself with the queen. In a sense, Abigail appeared to be a rabbit herself, beautiful and cuddly and harmless. But with that final shot, Lanthimos conveys a different message. Abigail’s act has taken on a bastardized truth: She’s a pet, caged and helpless. And the queen’s desperate desire for unconditional love, the love of the children she doesn’t have, has led her to cast off the one person who truly cared about her. All she’s left with are rabbits.”
Collider: “Without Sarah to care for her, Anne really and truly is left with no one who loves her, just her rabbits — the stand-ins for her true happiness — and the very manifestation of her trauma and grief take over the screen until they multiply and are all that remain.”