On December 26th I left Mary Queen of Scots feeling pretty chuffed. It wasn’t the best film I’d ever seen, sure, but it was beautifully shot, and its treatment of its two great symbols, and two women in power — the aforementioned Mary, and Queen Elizabeth I — was inspiring enough.
And sure, it’s true that the overtly modern application of female power is likely ‘inaccurate’. The manner in which Mary, espouses it in words and deeds, and the manner of Elizabeth’s ruefully contemplates of the matter (more than once she refers to the crown having made her a man, in order for her to rule it: I’m reminded of Amis’ claim that Thatcher was not actually a woman ruler) are surely not very 16th century.
Of course, I wasn’t there. But I can assume.
Assumptions were not good enough for the couple to my right, though, who left New York’s Paris Theater disgruntled, and would no doubt remain so over their too-expensive drink that they would inevitably order at their inevitable destination on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
“That was absurd,” said the man. “Very progressive.”
(My rage withheld, I accepted that both of these judgements could be complimentary).
“What do you mean progressive?” asked his partner.
“Well, the whole film was very 21st century. It was all very modern.”
“Yes, that’s true, and I do wish it had given us more of the history.”
Defeated, I realized that the man was right. I checked my phone and it was the 21st century. British period drama, foiled again!
I sank into my seat. Mary Queen of Scots had fallen into the trap, so easy to avoid but so often fallen into, of being art.
Its 10/10 review, there for the taking, was to be withdrawn because the film did not simply read aloud a series of firsthand accounts and essays by later historians.
How could the makers be so stupid? Everybody knows that depictions of historical period not only must but always are completely and utterly faithful to the language, style, philosophy and subject matter of their time.
And then I remembered Shakespeare…
I bet the man watched Shakespeare. I bet he loved Shakespeare. And all the bard’s plays, they used historical material as a catalyst for contemporary discussions. Henry V didn’t depict a historical Henry V. Hamlet probably has little to do with a real former Prince of Denmark. And Henry VIII? Well that was actually all about the legacy of a lady who is barely a baby in the play and had died a decade earlier: one Queen Elizabeth I.
I’d got them! This was perfect, the ultimate riposte, I just had to tap him on the shoulder and…
But they were gone.