‘Mary Queen of Scots’ feels made for a post-Hil­lary po­lit­i­cal world

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Entertainment - BY KATIE WALSH Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Of­ten, a pe­riod piece tells us more about the era in which the film was made than the his­tor­i­cal pe­riod in ques­tion. That is the case with Josie Rourke’s “Mary Queen of Scots,” writ­ten by Beau Wil­limon, which digs into the age-old ques­tion of gen­der and pol­i­tics through the re­la­tion­ship of Scot­tish queen Mary Stu­art (Saoirse Ro­nan) with her cousin and po­lit­i­cal foe Queen El­iz­a­beth I (Mar­got Rob­bie). But this isn’t about a cat­fight. It’s a reck­on­ing with the fact that women have al­ways had to fight men tooth and nail for their power, even if granted through birth, be­cause men fear “a woman with a crown.” The film opens in 1587, with Mary in prison, and it’s like you can al­most hear the faint chants of “lock her up,” metaphor­i­cally.

The Queen of Scots and her wild, tu­mul­tuous life has been por­trayed on film many times. This ver­sion’s clos­est com­par­i­son is the 1971 film “Mary, Queen of Scots” star­ring Vanessa Red­grave and Glenda Jack­son as the two queens, which fo­cuses on the same time pe­riod of Mary’s life: from her ar­rival in Scot­land as the young widow of the King of France, through­out her tur­bu­lent, short-lived reign, be­fore she was forced to ab­di­cate the throne. With “House of Cards” writer Wil­limon adapt­ing the script, the po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions are equally cun­ning and blackly evil.

In her fea­ture de­but, Rourke has crafted a sump­tu­ous pe­riod piece through the lens of 2018 iden­tity pol­i­tics — an in­ter­sec­tional and fem­i­nist retelling of the his­tory. Peo­ple of color and queer peo­ple have been re­in­stated into the his­tor­i­cally white, het­eronor­ma­tive genre, and right­fully so. It only serves to en­hance the char­ac­ter and story, and it feels rad­i­cal and fresh.

One can’t help but feel this ver­sion of “Mary Queen of Scots” could only have been made in a post-Hil­lary world, fu­eled by fem­i­nist anger search­ing for val­i­da­tion, for con­fir­ma­tion that men have ru­ined ev­ery­thing for cen­turies be­cause they’re too afraid of a woman in power. A queen has to sac­ri­fice her body, her de­sire, her fam­ily. And even if she sac­ri­fices ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing, she'll still be pil­lo­ried as a whore by staunch re­li­gious fa­nat­ics like Church of Scot­land fire­brand John Knox (David Ten­nant in a full Rasputin get-up).

Wil­limon’s script fore­grounds the po­lit­i­cal na­ture of the queens’ sex lives to high­light how even their pri­vate lives are up for po­lit­i­cal de­bate as mat­ters of pol­icy: who is mar­ry­ing whom, and who can most ef­fi­ciently pro­duce an heir, if they want to or not. Stylis­ti­cally, Rourke matches this, mir­ror­ing shots that com­pare and con­trast the two women, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to Mary’s fer­til­ity and El­iz­a­beth’s de­ci­sion not to take a hus­band or pro­duce an heir. That choice is the key to her grasp on power, and the film vis­ually un­der­scores the choice as a tremen­dous per­sonal sac­ri­fice.

This is a film about the in­ex­tri­ca­ble link be­tween the per­sonal and the po­lit­i­cal, which has al­ways been women’s work. Late in the film, Mary be­seeches El­iz­a­beth to unite, be­cause men thrive on their en­mity and strife. But for El­iz­a­beth, be­ing queen was al­ways a onewoman job, and a bru­tally tough one at that, as de­picted in “Mary Queen of Scots.” Un­for­tu­nately, it’s never been good to be the queen.

LIAM DANIEL Fo­cus Fea­tures

Saoirse Ro­nan stars as Mary Stu­art in “Mary Queen of Scots.”

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