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Saoirse Ronan stars as Mary Stuart in MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, a Focus Features release.Credit:  Liam Daniel / Focus Features
Liam Daniel

5 surprising facts about Mary Queen of Scots

‘Mary Queen of Scots’ director Josie Rourke shares the secrets about the Scottish monarch that you definitely didn't learn at school

Written by
Alice Savile

Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie play rival queens in director Josie Rourke’s ‘Mary Queen of Scots’. But it’s not your average historical flick. Rourke explains how she ripped up the story you think you know.

Mary has been slut-shamed by history

My Spidey sense began to tingle when I started to read about her. What’s generally written is that she was either too emotional or too sexual to make good decisions. She’s basically been slut-shamed by history. She was a much more determined, subtle politician than that. Elizabeth I’s advisor Cecil was on a mission to destroy her. To get Elizabeth I to sign Mary’s death warrant, Cecil even pretended to her that the Spanish Armada had arrived a year early.’

Her relationship with Elizabeth I was… complicated

‘This movie is trying to stop their relationship being portrayed as one long catfight. When people tell stories about male rivals, they are as much about mutual fascination as they are rivalry, from Richard II and Bolingbroke right through to Holmes and Moriarty. So I wanted to allow women some of that narrative as well.’

Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I in ‘Mary Queen of Scots’

The two queens never actually met

‘There is a gigantic amount of letters between Mary and Elizabeth. They never met but they corresponded vividly. In this film we create a meeting with a kind of heightened reality. As someone who’s come from directing theatre, it was exciting having this control over every element. We contrived it so that the two actors had never seen each other in costume. Then Saoirse Ronan [who plays Mary] rips down a sheet and they’re eye-to-eye for the first time. They have this extraordinary emotional response.’

Sex was about way more than producing an heir

‘This was a period when people thought that women couldn’t conceive unless they reached orgasm. So this film reflects the era’s focus on women’s sexuality. The important thing about the scene [of cunnilingus between Mary and her future husband, Darnley] is that it’s non-reproductive sex, and it’s Mary feeling fully in control of her own pleasure for the first time.’

Saoirse Ronan in ‘Mary Queen of Scots’

Her world was queerer than you’d think

‘This was one of the queerest periods of history. Mary comes from the French court, which hosted parties for gay men on Sundays. So when Mary discovers her husband Darnley’s sexual appetite, her response is to say that we need to be more careful. And that’s a moment of forgiveness, but it’s also a moment of political leadership.’

‘Mary Queen of Scots’ is in cinema's Jan 18. Read our review here

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