Cast: Margot Robbie, David Tennant, Guy Pearce, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Chan, Joe Alwyn
Director: Josie Rourke
Genre: Biography, Drama
Running Time: 124 minutes
Synopsis: Theatrical visionary Josie Rourke makes her astonishing feature film directorial debut with a powerful dramatization of the incredible life of Mary Queen Of Scots. Based on the groundbreaking book "Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart" by Dr. John Guy, which uncovered new evidence about Mary and Elizabeth, the film retells the story of these two Queens in a way that speaks to the experience of women in the modern world.
Born a Catholic at a time of religious turmoil, as an infant Mary is sent for her safety to Catholic France. At 15, Mary marries the heir to the French throne. Queen of France at 16, at 18 Mary is widowed, defies pressure to remarry and instead returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne. In Mary's absence, Protestants have gained control of Scotland, and her half-brother, Moray, has ruled in Mary's place. The powerful John Knox leads Scotland's Protestants and believes that a woman monarch is against nature and God's will. In England, Mary's cousin Queen Elizabeth faces pressure to marry and produce an heir. In Scotland, Mary faces conspiracy, civil rebellion and a hatred of women that brings her sexual conduct into constant question.
Mary has, by birth, a rival claim to Elizabeth's throne. The two Queens have a unique fascination with each other: only they can understand what it is like to rule in their land as women. Mary offers friendship and a treaty that settles their competing claims, but the bloody and intense politics of their courts keeps them apart.
Mary defies her advisors and England's will to marry and produce an heir to both kingdoms, her son James I. Following his birth, there is again the possibility of alliance and peace, but Mary's enemies are too numerous, and Elizabeth witnesses, with mounting horror, the cruelty, conspiracy and violence of Mary's court. Both women make very different choices about marriage, children and leadership. Through those choices, each woman has been immortalized by history.
Mary, Queen of Scots
Release Date: January 17th, 2019
Mary Queen of Scots was born on December 8, 1542. She was just six days old when her father, King James V, died, and she ascended to the Scottish throne. She spent most of her childhood in France, her mother's native country, while Scotland was ruled by regents. In 1558, she married the French Dauphin who became King Francis II of France in 1559. But Mary was only Queen Consort for a year before Francis died. She travelled back to Scotland to take up her throne in 1561.
Elizabeth I, born 7 September 1533, was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (who was executed when Elizabeth was two years old). Henry was succeeded on the English throne by Elizabeth's half-brother Edward VI, then her cousin Lady Jane Grey (for nine days) followed by her half-sister, the Catholic Mary (who was Henry's first child with Catherine of Aragon). Elizabeth became Queen in 1558.
A Historical Tale Of Women And Power For The Modern World
Based on Dr. John Guy's interpretation of the life of the Scottish Queen, Mary Queen Of Scots breaks Mary free from misconceptions of her as a weak or sexually promiscuous monarch. In the dramatic feature directorial debut from theatrical visionary Josie Rourke, Mary Queen Of Scots depicts the betrayal and rebellion within Mary's turbulent court, where the men around Mary never ceased to plot her downfall. The story unfolds against the backdrop of Mary's relationship with her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Two women who uniquely understood, captivated and challenged each other, they were both forced to make great and contrasting sacrifices in a male-dominated world"and pay the price for power.
For producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, co-founders and co-chairmen of Working Title, and producer Debra Hayward, the project marks a return to fertile creative ground: the partners previously brought to the screen the story of Elizabeth I with director Shekhar Kapur's 1998 drama Elizabeth and 2007's follow-up Elizabeth: The Golden Age, both Oscar®-winning films starring Cate Blanchett in the title role.
"From the beginning of cinema, people have been making films about Mary because she is such a fascinating character," Bevan says. "Having made the Elizabeth films, this was a world I was interested in. I always felt that Mary was a character that warranted a film of her own. It is incredible that these two women existed in a very male world as leaders. Also, in the ten years that Mary lived in Scotland, she packed in a lot of life. Two husbands, two battles"there was a lot of drama to be had."
Mary's life story, including her interactions with Elizabeth, also had a surprising contemporary resonance, the producers felt. "The point was to make the film about these two women existing in a male world, learning how to use their powers and one of them ultimately being outmaneuvered," Bevan says. "It felt very relevant in terms of equality in the workplace and all of the issues that we are reading about on a day-to-day basis. These are strong women wrestling with power, with politics, with love, all the things we still wrestle with today."
For a wildly ambitious production requiring sweeping scope and deeply emotional interpersonal drama, the producers understood they would need to find a truly special filmmaker. As the artistic director of London's prestigious Donmar Warehouse, Josie Rourke had staged groundbreaking productions starring some of the most talented actors working today. A former scholar of English at Cambridge University, Rourke immediately stood out as someone who could bring valued insight and a singular visual flair to the film.
Says producer Debra Hayward: "I found Josie's work in the Donmar, despite the limitations of the size of the theater, incredibly visual. There was always something very striking about it, so we felt she would make the transition really well to film. Also, to have a woman telling this story felt particularly apt at this time in our history."
Rourke immediately sparked to the project. She believes that in order to improve women's lives in the present, we need to start with "new accounts of historical figures that tell better emotional, historical and political truths about women's lives." Rourke was excited by both the artistic opportunities that went hand-in-hand with telling a female-led story and by the idea of working with Academy Award®-nominated actress Saorise Ronan, who already had signed on to portray Mary. "The first thing was the idea of Saoirse playing this role, a role I knew well from my work in the theater," Rourke says. "Saoirse is completely extraordinary and has all the range to play the power, ferocity, suffering and sacrifice of Mary."
The notion of chronicling Mary's relationship with Elizabeth further appealed to the director. "I really wanted to have two women lead a movie and drive the story," Rourke says. "You have to look quite hard in cinema to find films where the two people pushing the story forward are both women. I guess there is Carol, Mulholland Drive, Thelma and Louise... This is, in part, a film about their psychological obsession with each other. The film moves towards their imagined meeting, but Mary is in Elizabeth's mind throughout the film, burrowing into her consciousness, starting to affect her choices, in all areas of her life. Only they can truly and fully understand each other. Although they make very different moves, the two women are either side of the same coin. It's very much Mary's film, but like Batman has the Joker and Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty, there is a figure in Elizabeth who has this intense psychological relationship with them. I thought it would be tremendously exciting to have two women do that."
With such strong ideas about how to approach Mary's life, Rourke turned to Oscar®-nominated screenwriter and playwright Beau Willimon, whose credits include 2011's The Ides of March, based on his own play "Farragut North," and the Netflix drama "House of Cards." "Beau and I had wanted to work together for ages," Rourke says. "He writes women brilliantly and with great psychological complexity. He is also a deeply political writer. He understands the cost of power, which is the theme at the heart of this film. One of the things that people find so pleasurable about his 'House of Cards' is it felt like a kind of Renaissance drama, like a revenge play. There's lots of people plotting and scheming. In a way, this is the period of our history in which modern politics was invented."
In searching out an authoritative look at the experiences Mary had and her interactions with those closest to her, Willimon turned to historian Dr. John Guy's biography "Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart," which explores Mary's claim to the throne and the fallout from her threat to Elizabeth's reign. On publication, the book, and the new evidence it uncovered, were heralded as a revised take on Mary and her life. Dr. John Guy set out to show how Mary's reputation has been attacked by those around her, and the book seeks to redeem Mary from the misperception of her as a poor leader or sexually promiscuous Queen.
"John Guy has the ability to bring history very much to life," says producer Bevan. "There was no dry scholarliness about this. It felt very lively and got inside Mary Queen of Scots as a person to tell the story from her point of view in a very rich way. Beau and Josie both absolutely loved that as a starting-off point."
Guy hoped that his book would provide a different perspective of his subject than earlier histories. "I started to realize that when you understood the power relationship between the two Queens, the way we looked at Mary Queen of Scots was completely wrong," he says. "Mary had been subjected to a systematic campaign to discredit her by the English, masterminded by William Cecil. He was actually doctoring the archive so that, at a superficial look, you would actually reach the conclusions that he wanted you to reach. But of course, rather like with the Watergate scandal, if you look into the small print, you can unpack a very different story. It was important for me to tell the true story of Mary because so often in history she has suffered from a comparison with Elizabeth. The sources are there, and they were just waiting to bring a fresh telling of the story."
"John Guy was relentless in his pursuit of detail and facts," says Willimon. "His book did not wildly speculate, but I was able to draw a lot of inferences and conclusions, particularly on the emotional life of Mary and Elizabeth. John was also very helpful to me during the process in terms of his consultation and me wanting to take certain liberties or condense things to make them narratively digestible. He was invaluable in giving us the guidance to make certain choices that took us away from exact detail but captured an emotional truth and atmosphere that goes to the core of these two women's story."
Willimon's script captured all the complexities of two royal courts and the women who occupied the thrones. "He centered the story brilliantly around these two women getting into each other's heads," Bevan says. "All of the intrigue and shenanigans that were going on around them were there, as well as very well depicted characters."
Willimon adds: "I think one of the things that drew me most to the project is the sisterhood between Mary and Elizabeth, these two young women who were the only ones who possibly could have understood what it was like to be in the other one's shoes. So, there was this deep bond, but at the same time, they are rivals. Each wants the other's throne, so you have this vortex that is swinging back and forth between sisterhood and rivalry, between an attempt for peace and love and the state craft that leads to war and intrigue."
Although producer Hayward was familiar with the period, having worked with Bevan and Fellner on both Elizabeth movies, she says this project helped her gain new insight into one of the most misunderstood women in history. "I knew the highlights: the marriages, obviously, the baby, the imprisonment, the beheading and the relationship with Elizabeth. However, it was only when we really started to dig into John Guy's book that a new side to her story opened up, and that's what we are depicting on screen. We are definitely showing Mary in a new light."
Adds Rourke: "It was the age of patriarchy and, in that way, it is quite a modern story. The film is about female strength, but also about the costs these two young women had to face with immense responsibility on their shoulders, making a lot of sacrifices to be Queen."
Casting The Film: Bringing History To Life
Irish actress Saoirse Ronan has been committed to play Mary Stuart for years, originally signing on to a much earlier iteration of a biopic of the ill-fated queen when she was just 18 years old. "Even then, I always felt a real connection to Scotland and the history, probably because I think there are so many similarities between Scottish and Irish history," says Ronan, now 24. "The idea of playing a queen who represents so much for the Scottish people and had such a story to tell was really exciting. I believed it was a story that needed to be told. As an actor, it was a brilliant role to get, and I knew how lucky I was to have been entrusted with it. That wasn't something I was going to abandon. I always had faith it would come together at the right time."
Working Title's Bevan and Fellner had known Ronan since the earliest days of her career, having produced 2007's Atonement, which marked the actress's breakthrough Academy Award®-nominated performance as Briony Tallis. "I felt that Saoirse, as an actress, had all of the assets that a Mary Queen of Scots portrayal needed," says Bevan. "Particularly she has the steel inside her. The only other person I have seen with that steel is Cate Blanchett when she did Elizabeth. We have known Saoirse since she was a little girl when working with her on Atonement so we have watched her career evolve. Saoirse has done amazing work since and just becomes whoever it is she is playing. In many ways, it was good we took a few years to get to this place because she's probably the right age now."
Finding an actress who could command the screen in the same way as Ronan to play Elizabeth was critical. From the start, Rourke believed that Margot Robbie was the right choice. The Australian actress had enjoyed massive success in such critical and commercial hits as The Wolf of Wall Street and Suicide Squad, before going on to earn her first Oscar® nomination for her leading role in 2017's Tonya Harding biopic, I, Tonya. Rourke wrote to Robbie personally, explaining her vision for the film and why she needed the actress to play Elizabeth.
Still, Robbie initially felt a certain amount of trepidation taking on such an iconic character. "I was really daunted by the prospect, especially as the last time someone played Elizabeth, it was the actress I idolize the most: Cate Blanchett," Robbie says. "But Josie said she wanted me to play her as a girl, just a young woman. Once I stopped thinking of her as the Queen and thought of her as a woman, I was able to relate and understand her. I had made the naïve assumption that she had a very easy life, but Elizabeth's childhood was pretty traumatic. Of course, it didn't stop once she secured that position of power. I spent a lot of time with John Guy, who explained things in great detail, telling me more personal and intimate things that Elizabeth would have experienced."
Robbie adds: "I was excited by the idea of working with Josie, Saoirse and Debra; female director, female lead and female producer. The role scared me quite a bit, but the project itself was such an amazing opportunity."
As central as the two Queens are to the film, Rourke and the producers also cast dozens of actors to play a wide range of important historical roles, beginning with Mary's half-brother Moray, who ruled Scotland during the final stage of Mary's absence. Moray greets Mary with suspicion on her return to Scotland from France in 1561, following the death of her husband.
"As the film begins, Moray is the Regent of Scotland and hoping for Mary to be a puppet queen to him," says actor James McArdle. "He has worked hard to bring peace and stability, and the people loved him. So, he is a bit shocked by the vitality and the force with which Mary comes back. Moray also underestimates how clever she is, how pragmatic she is. He's a political animal. Shrewd and fiercely intelligent, he struggles with the emotional feelings he has for his sister. The big thing about Moray is he is illegitimate and he wants affirmation. He knows in his heart he is the best man for the job."
Mary, however, has no interest in acting merely as a regal figurehead. She intends to rule and to keep to her Catholic faith. However, she is astute enough to promise to respect all religions, and even recognize her kinswoman, the Protestant Elizabeth, as Queen of England. All Mary asks is that she inherit the English throne should Elizabeth have no children. This is a brilliant compromise, an offer of sisterhood, that the men around Elizabeth, particularly her chief advisor Cecil (Guy Pearce), set about trying to prevent.
Mary's decisions also immediately upset the men in positions of power in her own court, including Lord Maitland, played by actor Ian Hart. "Maitland was the Secretary of State, the chief government official in the Scottish court," Hart says. "Effectively, he was running the country in the absence of Mary. There was a Regent, but the Regent rules at the behest of Parliament and not the other way round. Then along comes Mary and she has other ideas. John Guy described my character as the Scottish Machiavelli. He's certainly not a nice human being, but his family maintained power. To be that canny, to save yourself when everyone else is getting killed, takes a certain amount of guile and wit."
Mary also has a powerful enemy in John Knox, leader of the Protestant church in Scotland, played by David Tennant. "He dedicated his life to seeing off Roman Catholicism, so he comes into Mary's court with some reservations, partly because she brings Catholicism to Scotland and also he wasn't a fan of women in power," Tennant says of Knox. "Looking at him now, he seems something of an unreformed dinosaur, but this was a man who believed he had the righteousness of God behind him."
The men of their respective courts speculate on Mary remarrying. In England, Cecil pressures Elizabeth to take a husband and produce an heir. For Cecil, the return of Mary to Scotland makes Elizabeth's marriage even more necessary. He fears that Mary will produce an heir before Elizabeth. But Elizabeth resists marriage, fearing (reasonably) that any husband would attempt to dominate her and take the throne. Elizabeth is content in her intimate relationship with courtier Dudley (Joe Alwyn), who understands that she will never marry.
"Robert Dudley and Elizabeth had grown up together and suffered together," says Alwyn. "They had both been in the Tower of London at the same time and both gone through their own hardships from a young age. He is loyal to Elizabeth and has love for her that is stronger than anything else."
"What stuck out to me was his sense of goodness and of loyalty," Alwyn adds of Dudley. "It was pretty clear to everyone they were lovers, to whatever degree people don't know. But she was definitely his favorite, and he spent a lot of time in her bedchamber and that caused friction with other people."
Likewise, Mary's affections for the musician David Rizzio (Ismael Cruz Cordova), whose company she prefers to proffered noblemen and minor royalty, is greeted with suspicion and deep misgivings. "David Rizzio starts off as a musician in the court of Mary Queen of Scots and soon becomes her confidante and right hand," says Cruz Cordova. "Rizzio is a little bit like a cat: all these colors, a little bit of mystery and a little bit of charm and a bit flirtatious. He has that rebellious spirit and was very ahead of his time."
Cecil sends the Scottish Ambassador Lord Randolph (Adrian Lester) to suggest to Mary that she marry an English subject, thereby allowing England some control over her decisions. Mary dismisses the suggestion with great political wisdom and style, impressing Randolph, who reports that Mary is "formidable."
"Playing a supporting role in a project will be rewarding only if your character affects the plot, and also if you have to balance some story tensions within the performance," Lester says. "The script gave me the opportunity to do both. Thomas Randolph was placed in a very tricky position between the two monarchs. He had to follow the instructions of one while trying to court favor and manipulate the will of the other, all while deferring to Mary's status as queen."
Prompted by this report, Elizabeth sends Dudley as a suitor to Mary. Dudley is reluctant, but Elizabeth points out that if Dudley marries Mary, then together Elizabeth and Dudley can control the Scottish Queen. Mary quickly refuses Dudley and insists that Elizabeth meet her as promised to discuss Mary's offer to recognize Elizabeth's claim to England once Mary is named her successor. Elizabeth falls ill with the pox and cancels the meeting. Mary learns of Elizabeth's potentially fatal illness and sends a missive in which she now offers to marry Dudley provided that she is named heir to the English crown.
Elizabeth survives the pox, and Mary finds an alternative suitor, Lord Darnley, played by Jack Lowden. An English nobleman, but a Catholic and of Scottish heritage, Darnley also has a claim to the English throne. By joining with Mary in marriage, two Catholics, and two claimants to England's throne would pose a clear and present threat to Elizabeth's crown. The English try to prevent the marriage. Moray is also against defying England's will, and he withdraws from the court in protest, threatening rebellion. Mary marries Darnley despite all protests. But Darnley isn't exactly an ideal husband"he wants to rule over Mary as King of Scotland. He also has an unbridled appetite for pleasure.
"Darnley was one of the suitors to Mary Queen of Scots even though he had a claim of his own to the throne," Lowden says. "He is the heir apparent to a massive estate in Scotland. His father was Scottish, but Darnley was actually born in Yorkshire, England. The English court thought it was a good idea to send an Englishman to keep control of Mary. But Darnley had ambitions of his own. He's never just in a room listening"he's normally the center of attention. He was a very effective political operator, or thought he was, but has vices"women, men, drink, power."
"At the moment, there is a huge pool of unbelievably new up-and-coming British actors," says producer Hayward. "We feel we have been very lucky in the casting of our male roles. In Joe Alwyn, James McArdle and Jack Lowden, we've got the three best young actors of their generation in this country."
Mary soon learns that her new husband has more interest in Rizzio than in her. She is betrayed by her husband and her closest male friend, Rizzio. Her marriage is in ruins, and her throne is in danger. Elizabeth is persuaded by Cecil to fund a rebellion against Mary. Cecil supplies Moray with the funds he needs to make civil war on Mary's throne.
Pearce was excited to play Cecil, who served as Queen Elizabeth I's primary advisor for 40 years. "He was a subtle and delicate politician, but obviously quite ruthless as well," says Pearce. "His main objective was to maintain her position, but also to maintain Protestantism and to keep Catholicism out of the monarchy. The relationship between Cecil and Elizabeth began years before she became queen, and they developed almost a father-daughter relationship. He was also a very respectful, loving husband, and I think she respected the ethical nature of him as well as his political ability."
Helped by her loyal commander Bothwell (Martin Compston), Mary leads the Scottish troops and overcomes the rebellion, headed by her half-brother Moray. Mary is a charismatic and effective commander, who unites Catholics and Protestant behind her banner.
Mary's next political move is to produce an heir, as a child would give her rights over the English throne should Elizabeth die childless. She forces Darnley to fulfil his obligation, conceiving a child with him. Mary derives great power and status from being a pregnant Queen, ready to give birth to an heir. Her pregnancy diminishes Darnley; once she has a child, she has no need of a husband. It also gives her dominance over the men in her court, who are driven to even greater resentment of the Queen and her growing power.
John Knox and Darnley's father Lennox are determined to bring Mary down. Lennox visits Moray, who is in hiding. Together, Moray, Lennox, Maitlan, and Knox conspire to spread the false rumor that the Queen is having an adulterous affair with Rizzio. They persuade Darnley to accept this lie, and to sign a bond, with over forty other Lords, in which they agree to kill Rizzio for his alleged adultery.
Rizzio, is murdered in Mary's chambers in a brutal assassination by the Scottish Lords that takes place in front of the heavily pregnant Queen. The Queen is placed under house arrest, and Moray returns to rule the country. Manipulating Darnley's vanity and weak will, Mary defeats this second rebellion and, with the help of Bothwell, who escaped the assassination, raises an army to threaten her brother and Maitland into submission.
Once again victorious over the rebels who would challenge her throne, Mary gives birth to James, an heir to England and Scotland. In an act of sisterhood, and a genius political move, Mary writes to Elizabeth, offering reconciliation, and asking that Elizabeth be James' godmother. This prompts Elizabeth to consider naming James her heir, much to the fury of Cecil.
Mary forgives Elizabeth, Moray and Darnley. Despite the urgings of her court and Bothwell to banish Darnley, Mary spares his life but condemns him to live separately under guard.
The third plot against Mary begins. Bothwell is manipulated by Maitland to believe that Mary needs Bothwell to be the strong husband. Bothwell plots Darnley's assassination and uses this as a pretext to kidnap Mary and force her to marry him. Meanwhile, Knox and Maitland falsely implicate Mary in Darnley's murder and brand her a whore for marrying Bothwell.
"Lord Bothwell was Mary's third husband," Compston says. "Historically, he was her protector, but then abducted Mary and coerced her into marriage because he thought he could be King himself. I liked his quiet aggression and contempt for all these schemers, the backstabbing and plan-making. With Bothwell, what you see is what you get."
Mary's reputation is destroyed in Scotland. Knox's fake news takes hold of the people's imagination, and she cannot raise an army to defeat Maitland and her brother, Moray, who has once again turned against her. Moray has also kidnapped her son, James, and intends to rule Scotland as his Protector, just as he ruled Scotland in the young Mary's absence.
"The film is much more than just the beheading of a monarch," says McArdle. "It's so relevant and contemporary, and it has big universal themes like family, love and betrayal. The story is examining how women leaders battle the patriarchy, the misogyny and the chauvinism that's surrounding them."
The film follows Mary's flight into Scotland. In the big scene of the film, Beau Willimon and Josie Rourke conceive an imagined meeting between the two Queens. In this dramatized scene, the two women face each other for the first time, and Mary pleads with her cousin for military support against the men whose forces are once again gathered against her throne. Elizabeth struggles with her own conscience. She feels a sisterhood with Mary but cannot defy her Protestant Lords. Mary's sense of superiority asserts itself, and she calls herself Elizabeth's Queen. Elizabeth leaves the secret meeting, and Mary's long imprisonment in England begins.
This scene is what Willimon describes as the "emotional truth" of their story. It is based on the many letters that the two women wrote to each other, including one uncovered by Dr. John Guy that shows how their sense of sisterhood endured even through Mary's captivity.
In the final scene of the film, Elizabeth signs the warrant to execute her cousin. Letters have been discovered, supposedly in Mary's handwriting, that prove a plot against Elizabeth's life. Mary is executed for treason in 1587. We see the scene in Elizabeth's mind's eye. As Elizabeth ages into the image of Elizabeth we know so well, Mary"in Elizabeth's imagination"remains the young Queen whose portrait Elizabeth first gazed upon over twenty years earlier. Elizabeth reigns for nearly forty-five years. Mary goes to the block and to immortality, a Catholic martyr, an icon, and the mother of the first monarch to unite the kingdoms of Scotland and England in one title, her son James I.
"There are so many ways to relate to this story," adds Robbie. "It really is a character piece. You quickly forget they are royal and instead focus on the fact they are just people. On top of that, gender politics are obviously extremely topical right now. It is fun to explore a different world and a different time that you might not know much about, but it's also important to be able to relate and recognize the very human qualities in these characters. This is a story that is very moving and important right now."
"Mary has had an effect on me in a way no other character has done in a really long time," offers Ronan. "I felt stronger because of her. You are always being faced with difficult decisions, but there is something really reassuring about watching a young person who was in such a powerful position go through the same things. Just because you have this God-given right to rule doesn't mean that you don't feel fear or you don't feel vulnerable. What I got from Mary is the fact she took that responsibility on her shoulders and really found her own way. I found that really inspiring to play."
The Meeting Of The Queens
In the tradition of hundreds of years of storytellers representing the lives of Mary and Elizabeth, Mary Queen Of Scots has its own imagined scene between the two Queens. This scene is the emotional heart of the film and the culmination of the drama in this historical drama. The creative choice to bring Mary and Elizabeth face to face allows an expression of humanity between these two powerful female figures who were not mortal enemies, but in fact wanted to come to a mutual agreement in terms of their reigns. It counters the sense of the two women as catfighting rivals and offers a new perspective on lives of these two women.
Although history has not provided evidence that the two ever met, dramatists have long imagined such an encounter. It has been depicted in the past on stage including in Friedrich Schiller's play "Mary Stuart" and Donizetti's opera "Maria Stuarda." "The scene felt absolutely necessary because until that moment we can't fully understand what Mary and Elizabeth went through, what they lived and endured until you have them looking one another in the eyes," says filmmaker Josie Rourke.
"When I first started speaking about the film, I talked a lot about Michael Mann's Heat," Rourke continues. "In some senses, our film echoes that dynamic. Then of course, in Heat they have that massive scene together, a proper big scene with two great actors just going for it."
Adds historian John Guy: "Mary always maintained, as did Elizabeth at times, that if they had a good conversation woman-to-woman, they could settle their differences. This was in a certain sense the Tudor version of the sisterhood. Both were coping with the same situations, including religious tension and conspiracy."
Guy continues, "The way the meeting is done in the film is extraordinary. And actually the truth is not that far from history."
In 2010, new documents appeared including a letter in which Elizabeth does appeal to Mary, woman to woman, as "sister Queens." She recollects the deep affection she had once held toward her, and to the idea of two Queens ruling as neighbors on the same island. Elizabeth goes on to deplore the strife and jealousy that had divided them. She ended by saying that should Mary seek a last-minute reconciliation, she should send her one of her secretaries so they could begin a conversation. Says Guy: "Although we know a meeting between the two Queens never actually took place, the possibility really was there."
For Ronan and Robbie, shooting the sequence became an unforgettable experience. "We agreed it was best for us not to see each other when in our characters, and on the day, we avoided each other as much as possible," Ronan says. "They arranged the set in such a way that I was on one side of the room, and she was on the other. When we finally got to see one another after weeks of rehearsals, three weeks of her shooting, and five years of me waiting to do this, we were just shaking uncontrollably. It was more than just the two of us having a cry in the scene. You felt it was an out-of-body experience. It was brilliant to have such a bond with someone who you only have one scene with."
Adds Robbie: "It was one of the most memorable acting moments I have ever experienced. We never saw each other in hair and makeup and costume before that moment. It was my last day of shooting, and it was so intense. I had already gone through this entire journey, and it was so wild and overwhelming that I truly forgot I was on a film set. It all just superseded the physical surroundings for a minute and was something quite intense and magical and emotional."
Of course, the sequence was not the only important artistic choice Rourke made that would ultimately shape Mary Queen Of Scots. She felt strongly that the key to casting is to find the right actors for the right roles regardless of ethnicity, and she brought on actors from a myriad of backgrounds to portray figures from England's and Scotland's past.
"When I was auditioning and casting some of the actors, it became quite emotional as many expressed how they had never had the opportunity to portray characters in costume drama," the director says. "These are some of our finest British actors, and great classical talents. They've been in numerous Shakespeare plays, and have played roles like this on the stage but never on the screen. It was the unexpected fulfilment of lifelong dreams for some, and for me, it was simply a matter of embracing unadulterated talent."
Rourke's artistic vision for telling Mary's story also extended to the personal lives of the court, particularly in the film's depiction of the Queen's relationship with Rizzio. Historically speaking, Rizzio was at the heart of Mary's court and joined in the various games and masques with the Four Marys, the chief ladies in waiting (played by Maria Dragus, Izuka Hoyle, Eileen O'Higgins and Liah O'Prey). Some of these games became quite intimate, sparking rumors that he was too close to Mary.
What is depicted factually on screen, according to Guy, is the relationship between Rizzio and Mary's consort Darnley. "A brief sexual relationship between Darnley and Rizzio is real history," Guy says. "Darnley was bisexual as was the vogue of young hedonistic courtiers in France. Contemporaries had ways of making sexual excess known, and when Darnley was described as a 'great cock chick,' the pun was intentional. Soon after Mary's marriage to Darnley, Rizzio was being described as Darnley's 'only governor' and the man who 'works all' in his counsels. Rizzio was Darnley's lover for a while, and they were found in bed together."
About The Production
Before filming began, director Josie Rourke insisted upon two full weeks of rehearsals, a process she felt was critical to helping her cast really locate the larger-than-life historical figures they were being asked to portray. "Josie had a brilliant way of tapping into the characters and bonding the cast," says Saorise Ronan. "She reminded us that we were young people feeling love for the first time, or perhaps feeling great fear and insecurities. She brought it back to a very human level and made us forget we were playing Queens. We were just playing people who were experiencing very human emotions. That was fascinating and something we had a long time to explore."
Ronan says spending time with John Guy during the rehearsal period also proved tremendously useful. "He has this encyclopedic knowledge of that time," the actress says. "I will never forget when I was reading the book, it says that when they eventually executed Mary, it wasn't a clean shot. They missed, and the axe went into her skull. It was this horrible decapitation. Eventually when her head was detached from her body, she had been reciting a Latin prayer. When everyone in the room saw her head, they said that her mouth was still moving as if she was in prayer. I thought this was the most incredible thing. It's a really good metaphor for the tenacity of her and that she stuck it out right to the end."
The rehearsal process also included time spent with choreographer Wayne McGregor and movement coach Sarah Dowling. "If you think that 80% of our communication is non-verbal, you realize that physical attitude and physical behavior is really important, especially in a piece set in a different time," McGregor says. "My job was to match the physical language with the narrative language. We wanted to find options for the actors to explore physically how they were going to deliver their lines. That can range from, obviously, the dances, but also to the lovemaking scene and the violence. The body doesn't lie, and what we try to do is make sure we have the right criteria to contribute to the scene."
Robbie had worked with McGregor previously on 2016's The Legend of Tarzan, and she says she found his guidance incredibly helpful. "It made all the difference with the costume and the corsets," Robbie says. "I vowed never to play a character who would wear corsets because I hate them so much. They are so uncomfortable. But he really changed my perception. He told me to embrace it, use it like a cage and it can be a piece of armor for you. He also said it can be a reminder to keep your walls up and be symbolic of so many things, so don't resent it."
The dance sequences on screen were entirely McGregor's invention. "They are not actual 16th century dances," he says. "Josie didn't want it to be period dance. The masque is a series of dances that make up the Renaissance story of Diane and Actaeon. We wanted to be able to create this myth in physical language really quickly over two minutes. The other dances were inventions, based on the rhythmic idea of the pavane, a slow processional dance, but with a physical language that is very different. We started with the actors, just finding something about their physical character that was related to the way they wanted to play the role. We then expanded from that. So rather than thinking about the dance being stuck onto the actor, you find a way in which the physical life of that body emerges through dance and says something else."
It was important for Rourke and Willimon to find a way to represent the many languages spoken between the two courts. When Ronan speaks with a Scottish accent, Rourke and Willimon used that to represent that Mary and others are speaking "Lowland Scots," which was the principal language of the Scottish Court. At other times, Ronan and her women speak French, to reflect Mary's time in France. Impressively, Ronan learned French for the film. Director Rourke also liked the idea of this as a private language.
In all, there are five languages spoken on screen: English (at the English court), which is in an "RP" (received pronunciation) accent; English with a Scottish accent, which represents Lowland Scots; French for French (although Rourke worked with a French Renaissance scholar to make sure that this was of the time). The list also includes Latin (the prayer Mary speaks at the beginning and end of the film); Italian (Rizzio speaks one line in his native tongue) and finally the Scottish Gaelic of the young Highland soldier.
Ronan used the rehearsal time to perfect Mary's accent. "I speak with a Scottish accent throughout the film, when I'm not speaking in French" Ronan says. "Mary spoke in Scots and French most of the time, hardly ever speaking in English. So, there were certain little tweaks we had to make. I wanted Mary to have quite a soft Scottish accent that set her apart from everyone else. David Tennant [who hails from Scotland] told me my Scottish accent was really good"I was really delighted he thought it was good. It helped that we were surrounded by Scottish actors: Jack Lowden, James McArdle, Martin Compston."
The producers and Rourke also felt it was important to shoot on location in Scotland and England, visiting famous landmarks such as Gloucester Cathedral, which became the cloisters and the corridors of Hampton Court. The Cathedral's crypt became the cell in which Mary is kept prior to her execution.
"Famously, Braveheart didn't shoot in Scotland, even though it's one of their great stories," says producer Debra Hayward. "We were determined to shoot there. It was very challenging to take a crew that big, in period dress, with horses, carriages and weapons, to very remote locations. But Mary travelled all over Scotland and stayed in lots of castles. We wanted to recreate this and ensure the film was very spiritually and geographically located in Scotland."
Adds producer Tim Bevan: "I feel if you are making a movie about Mary Queen of Scots, you have to film in Scotland. The Scottish countryside is a big figure in terms of the depiction and earthiness of Mary. We wanted to make Elizabeth's world a very interior one, so we never see Elizabeth outside. She's always in fairly formal settings and in a very orderly court, whereas Mary's world has a more earthy texture to it."
Rourke described the experience of making the film as "revelatory." "Physically for me, it was just the most extraordinary, energizing and thrilling experience to be telling stories in the open air," the director says. "We wanted to do as much as possible in Scotland and to show Mary in that environment and what her journey with it is. During the film, she comes to a deeper understanding and love of her country, so she had to be outside in it and witness the epic sweep of that landscape. Scotland is an extraordinary country, and it matches the scale of the story and the scale of what happens to Mary at certain points in the film. We just wanted to show Scotland in all of its incredible glory."
Of course, while Scotland might be famous for the beauty of its unspoiled views, open countryside and rugged terrain, the reliability of its weather is another matter entirely, which created some issues for the production. "To make the movie work, we agreed we would shoot in whatever conditions we had," Rourke says. "One morning, you just couldn't see you hand in front of your face. That held us back for a few hours. I never had it rain sideways into my ear before. It's a strange feeling and not particularly cinematic, but it worked on one level. There is a euphoria to shooting outside though. When it works, it's unlike anything I have ever felt."
Ronan agrees. "The energy you got from being up in the mountains at Glen Coe was stunning," she says. "Mary is so connected to the land and is so in touch with the world she is a part of, so to be able to feed off of that in Scotland was amazing."
Production designer James Merifield was tasked with building sets at Pinewood Studios that would match the grand nature of the Scottish vistas. "I thought very early on the way to make this film look bigger is to embrace the extraordinary landscape in Scotland," he says. "For instance, the set of Holyrood at Pinewood has an epic scale to it. It's very tall and broad, growing out of the rock, almost growing out of the landscape. In a similar but contrasting vein, the extraordinary quad in Gloucester Cathedral had to be reflected in Elizabeth's bedroom. Nothing would have been worse than a juxtaposition between location and set. For me, the set and the locations must be seamless."
Merifield took particular inspiration from the imposing Blackness Castle near Edinburgh: "I was really taken by the fact that it was a very organic space. All the architecture appears to grow out of the rock, and I ended up building the sets at Pinewood that feel as if they're morphing from rock. I wanted this organic, living, breathing space for Mary to inhabit."
What made the shoot easier was the camaraderie that emerged among the actors and director Rourke. "Saoirse and Margot are coming fully into their power as screen actors," the director says. "Working with me as a first-time director, and understanding what we wanted to get out of a scene, and actually sharing their craft with me in order to understand how to do that, was amazing. I was hugely inspired by both of them on their maturity and their generosity."
Margot Robbie is also quick to praise Rourke: "She is so intelligent, intuitive and perceptive"everything you really want in a director. Josie cares so much and really delves deep with these characters and their relationships. It brought a whole new understanding for me. She was an incredible source of knowledge and tapped into the emotional psyche of the characters, which I appreciated."
Adds Adrian Lester: "Josie was great. I could hardly believe this was her first feature. She had a very clear image in her mind for the film and communicated it well because the cinematography, the costume design, set design and makeup all stayed true to that picture throughout every scene. It's amazing to watch the film. If you were to freeze any particular frame, you would essentially have a 16th century painting. I also secretly enjoyed working on the project because it's the first time I'd done a period drama."
John Knox actor David Tennant similarly appreciated Rourke's vision and leadership. "I think Josie's great strength is storytelling," he says. "She has a way of keying into character and of unlocking scenes. There's always a danger with period pieces that it becomes lots men in cloaks shouting at each other. It was clearly not how Josie was going to approach it."
Ronan and Robbie also earned the respect of their co-stars. Ian Hart, who plays Lord Maitland, says of Ronan, "I think she is the best actress I have ever worked with. There is something about her that is unique. It's just watching someone who knows what they are doing. It's clear, it's precise. I think she is incredible, a hugely gifted individual."
Ismael Cruz Cordova, who plays Rizzio, agrees. "Most of my scenes are spent with Saoirse, and it's been a delight and a learning experience. It's such a beautiful thing to stay on set and watch her perform. I think I'm going to come out of this a better actor thanks to her."
"Saoirse is easily one of the best actors in the world," adds Jack Lowden, who plays Darnley. "I don't think you could have found a better actor, and she is still so young. She just slips straight into the queen, but she has such incredible vulnerability in her. She's just not playing the costume and the throne. She's playing a human first."
Guy Pearce, who plays William Cecil, was just as impressed with Robbie's work as Elizabeth. "Margot was just delightful," Pearce says. "She is very relaxed, very funny. She's very honest about what she knows or doesn't know. It was exciting to work with her and watch her process and have a lovely fun time with her."
Wardrobe And Wigs: Inside The Hair And Makeup Design
Costume designer Alexandra Byrne is no stranger to Elizabethan dress. "I grew up in Stratford upon Avon, immersed in Shakespeare plays," says Byrne, who won an Oscar® for her work on Elizabeth: The Golden Age. "It's a great period for me because you can be historically accurate, but it's far enough back in time that you cannot know everything so there can be a greater creative interpretation."
Byrne had worked on the Elizabeth movies but knew she was searching for a different look for Mary Queen Of Scots: "It was a really instinctive response to the script. I knew it had to be very different as this is a different journey. Josie said my instinctive response was in tune with hers and we worked from there."
"Because the scene structure is intercutting between the two courts, one queen is always being seen in the context of the other," Byrne explains. "I felt that Elizabeth's style was very strategic in that she really was executing the first major PR exercise. She was incredibly aware of the power of her appearance. Whereas Mary, I felt, was much more pragmatic. It's as if she has been dealt a hand of cards, and she wonders how she will make this work."
Although the regal garments worn by the two Queens became a primary focus, Byrne paid special attention to the men's costumes as well, giving them a more contemporary feel. "I wanted to make 16th century men look sexy, and I wanted a fabric that improved with wear," Byrne says. "Like our favorite jeans, the 16th century clothes must have molded to the wearer's body with sweat and rain and wind. For me, that pointed to denim. It also gave the clothes a modernity within the storytelling. Most of the actors came into the dressing room quite nervous about Elizabethan dress. They thought it was going to be pumps, britches and tights. It was nice to see how they embraced the denim, the way they grew and started to strut in them."
Ismael Cruz Cordova says: "For me, the costumes do impact how I build a character. The structure here gives you this uprightness, but at the same time is relaxed because denim shapes to your body. A lot of the time these period films are very stiff and restraining. But these costumes allow you to live in your character and perhaps bring a more contemporary and human feel."
Debra Hayward described Byrne's costumes as "extraordinary." "Alex has just created a world and a palette in this film that I don't think I have ever seen before."
Hair and makeup designer Jenny Shircore, who won the Academy Award® for her work on Elizabeth, collaborated closely with Byrne. "She's always fantastic to work with," says Shircore. "Alex Byrne had a brilliant and modernistic take on the costumes, which allowed us to play around with the hairstyles and give them a slightly modernistic look, especially with Mary. We kept the Scottish men slightly hairier and more in tune with their wild environment. The English court was more groomed."
Shircore was conscious of designing Robbie's makeup to reflect the effects of the disfiguring illness Elizabeth experiences during the course of the film. "Because of the smallpox Elizabeth suffers, we were able to take her down a different route than we took Cate Blanchett," Shircore says. "We wanted to say to everybody, This is our Elizabeth. Yes, it's Margot Robbie, but she is the character."
Robbie says that although costumes and hair and makeup are always a part of finding a character, her experience on Mary Queen Of Scots was particularly special. "It was great to work with Jenny Shircore and Alex Byrne, who not only are such decorated designers in their own right but have also explored the character before in the Elizabeth movies. They had a huge wealth of knowledge on her, which gave us the opportunity to take it all a step further and in a different direction to what they done previously."
"I appreciate the research they put into it that maybe audiences might never know," Robbie continues. "Alex Byrne had read up on sea monsters, which people at that time believed existed. She then had them sewn into Elizabeth's costumes. Every single stich on a costume was there for a reason and had an emotional pull to it. Knowing that made a huge difference every time I stepped into one of the costumes. Similarly, Jenny's hair and makeup was hugely transformative for me as an actor to see that progression aesthetically in Elizabeth. That played hugely into her emotional arc and the person she became."
Ronan echoes many of those same sentiments. "The clothes make you stand in a different way because of the corset, heavy skirts and jewels," Ronan says. "The way I walked was totally influenced by what I was wearing. Because Alex and Jenny had worked on Elizabeth, they had a really good handle on that era and wanted to do something different with it. We pushed it without it becoming ridiculous. It was still in the right realm, but there was an edge to it, which I really liked.
She adds: "Mary famously had auburn hair, but for Elizabeth and I to have a contrast, we decided to go for this really rich, almost fiery red. The colors that Mary wears start to change, and Alex shows the journey that Mary goes through beautifully. On the beach at first in Scotland, she's in this pale blue color and then it gets darker and darker as the film goes on."
David Tennant, too, was very conscious of his own makeup and the ways in which it helped him build his character. "John Knox had a very distinctive look," he says. "There's a famous statue of him in the middle of Edinburgh, which I saw regularly growing up in the city. There are going to be physical attributes that you're not going to be able to avoid"one of them is the big old scraggly beard and the robes. It's absolutely indicative of who he was, and it becomes a trademark for a character like that. For any character from history who had a specific look, you just have to embrace that, and if that means a couple of hours in the makeup chair getting a beard stuck on, then that's just part of it. Beyond that, you hope that it serves the reality of the character. It's for the audience to decide whether I'm playing the beard or the beard is playing me!"
The attention to detail extended to anyone seen onscreen including the massive number of background actors. "The extras' costumes were all different," says Byrne. "They didn't have uniforms then, and I didn't want it to look uniformed. Within the English and the Scottish courts, there were up to 25 different looks. We were using factories in Poland, England and India all at once to manufacture the costumes."
Laura Solari, who oversaw crowd hair and makeup, found the weather to be especially challenging, particularly on days involving large scenes with dozens of extras. "We had to use a waterproof makeup to combat the conditions in Scotland as it rained all day," Solari says. "The guys would come back and all their facial hair glue had started to shed because their skin is so wet, and all the hair goes completely straight! So, we had to dry, curl and re-stick constantly."
With more than 200 extras on set at various times, in addition to the sizable cast, Solari had to work with military-like precision to get the background actors ready to go before the cameras. "I estimated we needed 20 minutes per person," she says. "We had them arrive in two waves starting at 5 in the morning. Each session took nearly three hours to get ready in wigs, makeup, beards and moustaches. There is a very strong Elizabethan look, so it took quite a while to put together. For the Scottish scenes, some of the extras had their knees showing because they are in kilts, so we had to make everything grubby to match the costumes."
One of the background actors was, in fact, historian John Guy. He remembers the experience fondly. "That really tickled me," he says. "My character was called Bishop Number 1. He has no specific name because we don't know which bishop married Mary and Darnley. Astonishingly, the historical records don't tell us that. I am in the banquet scene, tucked away at the side of the top table. I had a thoroughly great time and loved every minute of it."
Mary, Queen of Scots
Release Date: January 17th, 2019