Mary Queen of Scots ★★★★

Come with me now to the England of over 400 years ago, a land whose establishment treats Scotland and Europe with an utter contempt that is borne from their fears of both.

Nothing much has changed really has it?

This got some fairly middling reviews and I'm struggling to see why. I know the hoary old claim of historical inaccuracy reared its head once more, but the dramatic licence of depicting a meeting between Mary and Elizabeth has a precedent that dates all the way back to 1800 and Friedrich Schiller's play Mary Stuart, so that shouldn't be the reason. Likewise some 'scholars' got their knives out because Saoirse Ronan played Mary as someone speaking English with a Scottish accent, arguing she had been in France for most of her life. Ah but, if you actually so some research you will see that not only was she taught to speak Lowlands Scots as a toddler, she also spoke Scottish with her ladies in waiting too. And, when a British ambassador called on her in the court of France and spoke to her in English, she responded in Scots. So no, I'm not buying the concerns of historical accuracy as a reason not to appreciate this film. The only question you should consider when watching a film about history is, 'are the depictions true to character?' and in this instance, I would say emphatically that yes, they are.

Unfortunately, I think the real reason for the film's mixed reception lies in the fact that this came out around the same time as The Favourite, which delivered such a refreshing spin on the traditional costume drama that this almost instantly seemed old fashioned and staid. But surely a period drama is, by its very premise, old fashioned, and I am equally sure that there ought to be enough room in anyone's heart for both films. As time marches on, and some distance separates the two films, I can imagine this will exist on its own merit, which is just as it should be.

I do wonder too if some criticism, albeit largely and mercifully unspoken, stems from the fact that Josie Rourke's film elects to depict a multicultural court? I cannot help be reminded of the uproar from some bigots when Sophie Okonedo was cast as Margaret of Anjou in the BBC's The Hollow Crown. Amusingly one of the most vociferous critics was a UKIP councillor who put his head above the parapet to level a charge of historical inaccuracy on twitter by sharing a picture of Ms Okonedo alongside an image of a white Margaret taken from a medieval manuscript - it was left to historian Chevalier au Canard to tweet him back, pointing out that the very manuscript the councillor used as evidence claimed that Margaret was descended from a swan! Damn it, when will those trendy lefties at the BBC start employing those half human/half swan actors for the roles they legitimately deserve?!

Ultimately Josie Rourke's film is a beautiful (both in terms of scenery, production design, costumes and cast) and impressive, deeply cinematic production, which shouldn't be overlooked when you consider Rourke's theatrical background. It might lag a little bit at certain points, but that's a minor criticism in a film that, given what I'd heard previously, I expected to find considerable faults with. There's a good reason why this film is called Mary Queen of Scots as opposed to Elizabeth and Mary too and that's because it is all about Ronan. No offence to Margot Robbie, whose character is much more difficult and who occasionally distracts us with her prosthetic nose and 'ugly' make-up, because she still shines, but this is Saoirse's show.

Number 76 in my 52 films by Women in 2019 challenge

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