Writer Liz Lochhead ex­pains our en­dur­ing

The Sunday Post (Inverness) - - NEWS - By Ste­vie Gal­lacher sgal­[email protected]

Astrong woman fight­ing for her place in the world, Mary Queen of Scots remains an iconic fig­ure more than 400 years af­ter her death.

She remains one of most fas­ci­nat­ing and con­tro­ver­sial fig­ures in Bri­tish his­tory and her life and tur­bu­lent times are, once again, to be framed on the big screen.

Ac­claimed ac­tress Saoirse Ro­nan plays Mary in a new big-bud­get drama re­leased on Fri­day chart­ing her tor­tur­ous re­la­tion­ship with her cousin Queen El­iz­a­beth I, played by Mar­got Rob­bie, and the web of power and pol­i­tics en­twin­ing Scot­land and Eng­land in the last half of the 16th Cen­tury.

Along with Os­car-tipped The Favourite, an­other his­tor­i­cal drama, it’s part of a re­cent trend of films star­ring pow­er­ful women.

But was Mary Queen of Scots ever a fem­i­nist?

Liz Lochhead wrote the mul­ti­pleaward win­ning play Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off in 1987 and remains fas­ci­nated by Mary’s en­dur­ing ap­peal.

She said: “It’s such an in­ter­est­ing story be­cause it’s not just about one woman. It’s about Mary and El­iz­a­beth.

“It was an in­ter­est­ing ac­ci­dent of his­tory that there were two queens on the one green is­land at the same time.

“They were strong fe­male char­ac­ters, but each did things in their own way. “One of them had one way of try­ing to keep her power – El­iz­a­beth pre­tended she was go­ing to marry and have chil­dren.

“Mean­while Mary tried to have the nor­mal ro­man­tic life of a woman and have chil­dren. That was her ap­proach. “You have to con­sider Mary and El­iz­a­beth both knew that, if ei­ther had a male heir, then their life was in dan­ger be­cause some­one could seize that child.

“It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to think of how these women ap­proached a prob­lem men didn’t face in their own dif­fer­ent ways.

“And of course the irony of his­tory is that El­iz­a­beth wanted to pro­duce a male heir but it was Mary’s son who ended up on the throne of Eng­land and Scot­land.

“The real tragedy for me is that the beau­ti­ful red-haired women are fight­ing each other! They were the Bette Davis and Joan Crawford of their day.”

To Liz, Scot­land’s for­mer Makar, the na­tional poet, Mary Queen of Scots, who was be­headed in 1589, is part of a trend for show­ing more com­pli­cated, pow­er­ful women on screen.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing there’s a trend for movies with strong fe­male char­ac­ters like this and The Favourite,” she said.

For a real-life his­tor­i­cal fig­ure, Mary has al­most gained myth­i­cal sta­tus

“These films were al­ready in pro­duc­tion be­fore things like #Metoo hap­pened so we were mov­ing to­wards this any­way.

“There is a swing to­wards these sto­ries about women be­ing told, but it’s in­ter­est­ing in the way pow­er­ful women are shown now.

“There used to al­ways be a sense that strong fe­male leads – es­pe­cially char­ac­ters like queens – are wicked women. I’ve not seen it but in this film I think El­iz­a­beth will be de­monised, which is easy to do – she was quite mad but also quite clever.

“Mary Queen of Scots mean­while is such a time­less char­ac­ter, I’m not sur­prised they’ve made a film about her.

There have been lit­er­ally hun­dreds of plays, nov­els and even op­eras about her. It’s such a tragic story.

“She be­longs as much to myth as his­tory. She’s im­por­tant to us on a cul­tural level. She’s al­most akin to a char­ac­ter like Franken­stein’s mon­ster, she ex­ists on that level.”

Mary Queen of Scots is di­rected by Josie Rourke in her first film and, ac­cord­ing to Liz, women can bring a fresh per­spec­tive to tales we may think we know.

“In gen­eral, I think women drama­tists are more in­ter­ested in in­ter­nal con­flicts as much as they are about char­ac­ters in con­flict with each other,” she says.

“For many fe­male writ­ers, they show women hav­ing ar­gu­ments with them­selves, and that for me could re­flect the lack of power women have in real life. “It shows maybe how women are more likely to doubt them­selves, and doubt­ing their right to even speak up for them­selves.

“And that has been seen with what’s been go­ing on in Hol­ly­wood re­cently – women doubted they even had the right to speak out against sex­ual preda­tors.” Whereas male au­di­ences were once scep­ti­cal of films star­ring women, Liz says that out­dated at­ti­tude is be­gin­ning to be left be­hind. “Nowa­days men are more in­ter­ested in their fem­i­nine side,” she ex­plained. “That’s hap­pened dur­ing my life­time.

“Men are less threat­ened by women like Mary and El­iz­a­beth, whereas be­fore they were a bit afraid. We’re all in­ter­ested in sto­ries that ap­peal to bits of our­selves.”

Saoirse Ro­nan and Mar­got Rob­bie at­tend the world pre­miere of Mary Queen of Scots

Au­thor Liz Lochhead

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