“I ate constantly through the film and it was brilliant,” grinned Olivia Colman during her Golden Globes acceptance speech for best actress earlier this month. As the gout-afflicted Queen Anne in director Yorgos Lanthimos’ Oscar-tipped The Favourite, she regards food as decadent delight and a hindrance. It’s also a pawn in the vindictive battle for power and affection between Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone).
Katharine Tidy, who has worked on over 100 television shows and films as a home economist (her recent credits include Killing Eve, A Very English Scandal, The Crown, and Darkest Hour) cooked and dressed all the food for The Favourite. Speaking over the phone from the set of Last Christmas, an upcoming rom-com featuring Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke, as she prepared a Christmas dinner in mid-January, Katharine told MUNCHIES about creating the cake, biscuits, meringue towers, and venison puffs of Queen Anne's sugar-saturated court.
MUNCHIES: Hi Katharine, how much did Olivia Colman really have to eat on set?
Katharine Tidy: She was meant to eat a lot. There was always a display of biscuits and sweets in her apartment, and Abigail plies her with sweets and hot chocolate to win her over. It formed part of that rivalry with Sarah, who says, “You can’t eat that, you’ll get gout.”
What sort of sweets did you make for the Queen’s court?
There were lots of cakes and biscuits and sweet meats, which are glacé fruits, including candied peel, carrots and parsnips, and gilded marchpane [marzipan]. Lots of it still had to be edible, but one of the pyramids of meringues was for display and made from polystyrene.
As for the cake, was that entirely edible?
I do quite a nice line in iced polystyrene if a cake doesn’t need to be real, but this did. I went for a baroque, Wedgwood China kind of a look. They wouldn’t have iced it quite that much in the 18th century, though.
Would it have been blue then, too?
I tried to be historically accurate with a modern twist, like some height and colour to make things more extravagant. Because all the costumes were black and white, we put colour in the food, like the blue cake, pink meringues, and pink wafer biscuits. The wafers would have been made with barberries but I used vanilla, cinnamon, and food colouring instead. Some of the cakes were quite modern, like the ones from [Belgravia bakery] Peggy Porschen, but it all looked lovely. Normally, I’d say if something was wrong, but with this, the sky’s the limit.
Did the icing stop the cake going stale during filming?
Yes, and if nobody’s eating it, then it doesn’t matter if it’s a bit mouldy underneath. There were about eight cakes in total, though, because Anne always has the cake nearby. And once she’d eaten some, the remains would sit on the side of the set. It did linger a bit …
Queen Anne eats the cake until she vomits. Was it your job to make the vomit?
No, the prop boys did that, using different bowls of mushed up icing and buttercream to make a paste which she could then throw up. Bless her, it’s not a fun thing to do.
How much does sugar signify class in this film?
Hugely—sugar was the purview of the wealthy at that point. In the Georgian era, the middle classes could afford sugar and it was in mass production by the Victorian era, but in the Tudor and Stuart era, you had to be wealthy to afford sugar. So at Abigail’s trendy dinner party, we had lots of marzipan because she’s going up in court, making money and being lavish. They’re all drunk and they’re eating the dessert course, the equivalent of After Eight mints.
There’s a whole deer on a platter during the duck-racing scene. Why was meat used here, rather than sweets?
Sarah is one of few women there and they’re betting on the ducks, so we had a pyramid of beetroot and roasted onions and meat to make it more manly.
Was the deer real?
I always tell people you if you spit-roast something, unless it’s a pig, you take the head off, so it could be anything. And if you get venison from your butcher, it’s generally reeve’s muntjac deer, which isn’t so big. So we did a lamb and attached the skull and antlers of a deer. It’s also much cheaper to make the meat than get a model, which costs hundreds and can’t be sliced. The platter was the same one we used in Macbeth [the 2015 film starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard].
In one interaction with Harley (Nicholas Hoult), Sarah tries to fob him off with a “venison puff.” What were those?
They didn’t have canapés in that time, so we came up with something I was happy with: a square vol au vent with a roll of meat and pickled cabbage. It was period-ish.
As for the slabs of meat that Abigail has to put on Queen Anne’s gouty legs, were they real?
It was beef, flank steak. We joked that she couldn’t have a lot of it because it wasn’t a huge budget film. But every time I spoke to [the set designers] about any food, we decided we’d use more.
Rabbit is never on the menu here, was that a conscious choice?
Queen Anne would never eat rabbits [in The Favourite], but I did make a carrot cake for them using edible flowers and crudités that she could feed them.
How much fun was it to work on this film?
I’ve worked on a lot of films and they’ve all had their moments, but I can’t stress how much fun it was to work on.
You also worked on Bohemian Rhapsody, was that just as fun?
It was a very different period, we made curries for a scene for Freddie Mercury’s birthday at home, but also canapés and food displays for this ostentatious party he held. There were lots of people in warrior dresses and drag queens, it was very odd, like the ball in the Favourite. Dwarves carrying round plates of cocaine says it all.
It certainly does. Thanks for speaking with me, Katharine.