Mary Quite Contrary
MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS I Director Josie Rourke gives historical drama a spin…
There’s a narrative that surrounds [Mary, Queen of Scots],” says Donmar Warehouse artistic director Josie Rourke, “which is really a Victorian narrative about her being silly, romantic and a not very capable politician.” Not so Rourke’s take – her first feature film after years of theatrical critical acclaim – which takes the Scottish cousin to Elizabeth I “really seriously”, positioning Mary as feisty counterpoint to the Virgin Queen and “the role she played in the creation of Elizabeth as the icon we now know her as”.
Charting Mary (Saoirse Ronan, linked to the project since 2012) from her return from France in 1561 through the ‘psychodrama’ of her interplay with Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) to her 1587 death, MQOS not only explores the politics of being a female monarch in a patriarchy, but also the ‘truth’ of a bond between two women working within the same system.
“The idea that you could take Saoirse, who is so brilliantly capable of playing feverish, delicate moments, and have her find her strength over the course of the film; and to take Margot, who’s someone with whom you associate that strength and show you vulnerability – it felt like it would produce something really exciting.”
Though Rourke kept her leads apart until filming a key seven-minute scene
where the two queens meet (which she likens to the De Niro/Pacino face-off in Heat), she felt a similar sisterhood on-set, long before recent headlines made this tale seem so relevant. But this is not a #MeToo response movie. “This is not just about going, ‘Here are
Saoirse Ronan stars as the 16th Century Scottish monarch.
Margot Robbie oozes cool malevolence as Queen Elizabeth. two strong women,’” she says. “But we’re at a point in the history of entertainment and the history of art where women are still relatively underrepresented. The truth of it is that I started my career making stories like this, and trying to find ways to tell them with some female perspective.”Trying to convey that feminine experience meant some dramatic licence. Yes, history pedants, Rourke knows that Mary and Elizabeth never actually met, but felt the moment distilled the connection between the two that is documented in their numerous letters. “The idea that they will be face-to-face is one of the things that binds together the story and gives it a sense of drive. It’s really cinematic, and the best way I got to massively show that [relationship] is by this scene.”After filming, Ronan and Robbie showed a similar affinity amid global pressure to pit them as rivals when both were Oscar-nominated last year. “Although history meant that Elizabeth killed her cousin, the very opposite of that was happening on the world circuit [between Robbie and Ronan],” smiles Rourke, “where brilliantly, and with great fortitude, they resisted the notion that they’re in competition.” Yass, queens indeed.