Friday, 22 February 2019

Queens promise an Oscars ‘battle royal’

Queens promise an Oscars ‘battle royal’

THE rivalry between Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I has fascinated generations of scholars, playwrights and novelists — not to mention filmmakers.

Previous screen outings have provided great roles for Katharine Hepburn and Florence Eldridge (in 1936’s Mary of Scotland), Glenda Jackson and Vanessa Redgrave (1971’s Mary, Queen of Scots), and Cate Blanchett and Samantha Morton (2007’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age).

Now, 431 years on from Mary’s 1587 execution, her story is retold in Mary Queen of Scots — a new take on her turbulent life that sees recent Oscar nominees Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) and Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) go head to head once more.

Based on John Guy’s 2004 biography, My Heart is My Own, the film has Ronan’s Mary and Robbie’s Bess as rivals in both power and love, fighting for their sovereignty and independence in a masculine world.

Only one queen can win this game of thrones, a web of betrayal and conspiracy spun by the calculating Sir William Cecil (Guy Pearce), and the murderous Earl of Bothwell (Martin Compston). Throw in David Tennant as Mary’s fierce critic, John Knox, Joe Alwyn as Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley, and Jack Lowden as Mary’s ambitious husband, Lord Darnley, and the result is a heady brew to say the least.

Having written the play on which George Clooney’s The Ides of March was based, and helped create the US version of House Of Cards, writer Beau Willimon was eager to tackle a saga he described as being “a notorious story for centuries”.

Josie Rourke, the award-winning theatre director here making her film-directing debut, was similarly compelled to make a film “about sisterhood, women in power, and leadership”.

Rourke said she was certain the 400-year-old old drama would have “incredible modern resonance”, adding: “To watch Mary go through an extraordinary struggle to hold on to power in Scotland, to make her own choices, to be ambitious, and also be vulnerable as a leader and a woman, was an incredible opportunity.”

With Gladiator’s BAFTA-winning cinematographer, John Mathieson, behind the camera, Oscar winner Alexandra Byrne designing the costumes and fellow Academy Award winner Jenny Shircore supplying the hair and make-up, Mary Queen of Scots is shaping up to be a major awards contender — though it looks as though it will have to duke it out with Queen Anne drama The Favourite.

Mary Queen of Scots is showing at Henley’s Regal Picturehouse from today (Friday).

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