Saoirse Ronan, Beau Willimon on "Righting" History in 'Mary Queen of Scots'
The actress and the screenwriter discussed how their film refutes Mary's reputation as a "kid who's way over her head" and reveals her and Queen Elizabeth's compassion for each other.
At its New York premiere on Tuesday, the cast and crew of Mary Queen of Scots described how the film corrects misconceptions about Queen Mary of Scotland perpetrated by previous interpretations of her life story.
"Mary's sort of painted out as this kid who's way over her head," said Saoirse Ronan, who plays Mary. "It's not completely untrue. She wasn't necessarily prepared for this type of ruling; she didn't ever expect to be in this position. But she handled it a lot better than people have depicted in history books in the past. [Mary Queen of Scots] was about righting that and not painting her out to be this villain and this enemy of [Queen] Elizabeth, because she wasn't."
An adaptation of John Guy's biography My Heart Is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots, the film focuses on the seven-year period between Mary's crowning in 1561 and her imprisonment by Queen Elizabeth I in 1568. Despite their famously contentious relationship, which resulted in Elizabeth ordering Mary's execution in 1587, the two "were not mortal enemies from the beginning of the story," Guy told The Hollywood Reporter.
"They actually tried to build bridges between each other," he said. "They called each other 'sister.' This was the original sisterhood, because only they, those two queens, could imagine what it was like to be in the other one's shoes."
Anchoring on the concept of their "sisterhood," screenwriter Beau Willimon sought to construct a film that showed Mary and Elizabeth's compassion for each other and explained the true motivations behind their aggressive actions.
"The amount of resistance that Mary and Elizabeth faced, not from each other's kingdoms but from their own courts, by a lot of men who wanted to see them undermined or dethroned, was pretty severe," Willimon told THR. "They were assumed to be incompetent and unworthy from the get-go. They had to battle a lot of conflicting advice from their courts and their nobility." Still, he added, "In their hearts, their instinct was to find a way to coexist."
Willimon, who developed the White House drama House of Cards for Netflix, sees a connection between the prejudices that dogged Mary and Elizabeth and the sexism that women in politics face today.
"There was that tweet about Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez," he said, referencing a controversial tweet shared by Washington Examiner reporter Eddie Scarry criticizing Ocasio-Cortez's choice of work clothes. "Can you imagine that sort of tweet being sent out about a congressman in his Brooks Brothers suit? No. That scrutiny on the body, on presentation, being reduced to that — it's something that Mary and Elizabeth faced as well."
Co-starring Margot Robbie as Elizabeth, Joe Alwyn as her suitor Robert Dudley and Jack Lowden as Mary's husband Lord Darnley, Mary Queen of Scots is currently in theaters. It had its world premiere at AFI Fest on Nov. 15.