Mary Quite Con­trary

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS I Di­rec­tor Josie Rourke gives his­tor­i­cal drama a spin…

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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.

JC ETA | 18 JAn­uAry / MAry QuEEn Of ScOTS OpEnS nExT yEAr.

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.

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