This post could alternately be titled, “Avidly Admiring Mary Queen of Scots’ Alluring Azure Attire”. So if you came for the costumes (which I can only assume you did), read on! 🙂
As a history & costume-film aficionado, I was obviously going to watch Mary Queen of Scots at some point. (I have a vague memory of watching the 1970s version on TV many years ago. Except that… *spoiler alert* …wasn’t Bothwell the good guy in that one? I seem to recall him in a romantic-leading-man capacity, which neither the new version nor a quick perusal of the actual history supports.)
Anyway, I’m glad I viewed the film before reading the IMDB reviews… because wow, are they scathing! While generally in agreement upon the sterling calibre of Saoirse Ronan’s acting, almost everyone was up-in-arms about 2 things in particular (more *spoilers* here):
- the overly PC approach, and in particular the completely historically inaccurate presence of a host of non-Caucasian figures, anachronistically cast as lords & ladies in 16th-century England and Scotland
- the fabricated (and fabric-y) scene where Mary & Elizabeth meet – a meeting which never actually took place in real life
My thoughts? Well, firstly, I agree about the meeting scene… because while I can see why a director would desperately want to put her two main characters in a climactic scene together, I’ve never been in favour of dispensing with fact in favour of fiction in the realm of biopics.
However, the other issue is much more complex, in my view. I completely and entirely understand the objections that it’s not an accurate depiction of history, that it actually undermines its own purpose by blithely suggesting that minorities enjoyed privileges they were in fact denied (thus effectively “whitewashing” historical racism, in a way), and that it could be dangerously misleading to young people who lack knowledge of the true state of things in a particular era, and of the abuses to which people bearing what was perceived as the “wrong” colour of skin were subjected. On the other hand, I also completely understood, for example, Kenneth Branagh’s decision, in casting Much Ado About Nothing, to include “incongruous” non-European actors in roles traditionally played by Caucasian men. After all, why should actors of other backgrounds be limited to partaking in only a tiny handful of Shakespearean roles?
“But that’s only theatre, and this is history!” some would object vehemently. Okay… but couldn’t the same rationale still hold true, to some degree? I.e., should British actors of non-European descent be categorically barred from playing any roles in British historical dramas, other than those of servants, etc.? Or would casting them as figures of more elevated status simply be eliding the true degradation undergone by persons of colour at the hands of colonizers and imperialists, throughout centuries past?
Honestly, I don’t have the answer to ANY of these thorny questions.
So, to sum up, that’s why my post on Mary Queen of Scots will shy away from addressing the questions of whether or not it’s a good film, whether or not it’s worth your time to see, whether or not Saoirse Ronan’s Irish accent sounded sufficiently Scottish, whether Mary should have a Scottish accent at all (rather than a French one), etc. etc. etc.
Instead, I will simply pay homage to the incredibly rich and vivid blue costume palette chosen by the filmmakers:
It functions to bring out out Mary’s gorgeously pallid complexion and strawberry blonde hair so exquisitely that it almost hurts to behold – at least, if you’re me!
And by the way, how much did I love that she didn’t wear historically inaccurate makeup? Her lashes and lips were left almost entirely light, recalling a similar approach to the one used with Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth:
You can even see her freckles! 🙂
Now, back to those blue dresses, which look just as splendid from the back as from the front:
Add in the ocean + a blue boat, and voilà!
A painterly panorama, with a palette worthy of Picasso’s “Blue Period”.
Basically, I would be willing to forgive a number of other cinematic infractions, in exchange for the joy of beholding that level of consummate costuming and cinematographic skill!
And incidentally, there are several other intriguing costume details, such as these pleated shoulders:
And these earrings:
Historically accurate piercings, you ask? Well, I asked too, and found the answer that the costume designer based these on a portrait of Maria of Portugal, Princess of Parma (1550):
Apparently, the edgy asymmetry was meant to evoke Mary’s youth, fiery independence, and defiant stance – in which I believe it succeeded admirably, providing a nice visual bellwether of more insurgence to come!
But hold on….
Check out that armour!!
(Yes, I favour a good nod to armour, as my recent guest post will evidence.)
This forget-me-not of visual composition in the shot above is an example of simply sublime costuming… at least from my commoner’s vantage point. 😉
So, instead of entering the fray and debating whether Mary Queen of Scots did or did not deserve to be shredded by so many disgruntled viewers….
I’ll confine my closing comments to this:
Basically, my overall review of Mary Queen of Scots could be distilled down into one sentence: “A mixed film overall, with some excellent and some execrable elements… but the blue costumes were magnificent!“.
~ Costume designer: Alexandra Byrne ~