I do not drink, but some days I wish I did. Maybe a swig of brandy would wash the taste of this god-awful movie out of my mouth. I sat through it making dying whale noises. I am pretty sure I might have choked once or twice. I also needed a bit of eye bleach (do not try this at home). Apparently, what you get when you have two terrific actresses, an incredible setting, and a story that could have blown my socks off is… swill. And I went in with an open mind. I am not a completely anal person. (Stop looking at me like that. Okay, I am, but I cut movies breaks if I like them. Alas, I did not like this, so there will be no cutting. Unless it involves heads.) I wouldn’t have even minded the historically inaccurate meeting between the two leads if the rest of the movie hadn’t made me scream what the bleeding hell??? so often it seemed the least-offensive sin in the arsenal of total rubbish the script asked us to choke down like one of Henry VIII’s turkey drumsticks at a Tudor banquet. (He loathed eating in public, so that is made up, too.)
For future reference to Hollywood, in case any of them ever do an internet search and, you know, can’t get this from reading an actual history book (not to cast aspersions, but my cynical side suspects most Hollywood writers make shit up instead of looking it up) – let me talk just a little bit about Catholicism in this period. People took it seriously. They lived in a time when the sweating sickness could kill you. When the plague could kill you. When a fall could kill you. When the rats could kill you
(which you deserve for killing off all the cats! ASSHOLES). When the queen could kill you. Death was around every corner. It peeked in every window. It breathed down their necks, constantly. They were extremely aware of the fragility of life and just how fast it could bleed out. Which they knew, because they usually were sitting in the front row cheering.
The result of knowing nothing about anything meant they actually believed in hell. Not the Sunday School version we try not to think about today, but actual TORMENT after death. The Church sent theater troupes traveling around to perform passion plays to remind them of the hot pokers waiting down below if you did not stay in line. (Guess where the pokers went. I will wait here.) Do your duty. Confess to your priest. Donate to the coffers. Avoid sin. Or spend a nice long stint in Purgatory with Henry VIII (because everyone knew that is where he went, even though nobody dared say it). Ideally, you might want to avoid major sins that could, you know, get you in trouble with the Man Upstairs and His 20,000 Saints.
One of those sins was premarital sex. (Another was extramarital sex, but those are two of Hollywood’s favorite things, so they are in almost all movies from this period and every other period.) SO WHY ON EARTH IS MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS HAVING PREMARITAL SEX IN A VERY OBVIOUS WAY WITH THE ENTIRE COURT KNOWING ABOUT IT???
Mary Queen of Scots was a devout Catholic. Did you read that, future screenwriters? DEVOUT. Meaning, she believed in what the Catholic beliefs of the period were, not in our updated 2018 morality. She would not have had premarital sex with Boy Toy an hour after meeting him to “try him out.” Also, not to get TMI here, but the Catholic Church did not approve of oral sex. The missionary position was fine. Anything else was a sin. Mary would have known that, and Cared, Because HELL. HELL IS HOT. HELL HURTS. HELL, I WOULD DO ANYTHING TO AVOID THAT HELL. YOU GET ME??
Not only would she have refused sex on a moral level, she wasn’t an idiot. Mary had nothing going for her in Scotland. She was Scotland’s proverbial redheaded stepchild. A woman in a man’s world. She arrived with a FRENCH accent (not a Scottish brogue) having been raised abroad, and tried to rule what was to her, a foreign country. She HAD to maintain a pure reputation, because her life was on the line, her throne was precarious, and the Protestant Faction in her country would have used any excuse to dethrone an immoral queen.
I do not mind inserting a few modern things into costume dramas, but when you bring modern beliefs into it, it stands out and not in a good way. If these times saw premarital sex as a no-no, how do you think they felt about homosexuality? Or transvestites? Yet for some reason Mary is fine with her secretary banging her husband ON HER WEDDING NIGHT and with Rizzio cross-dressing. Because in her words, he needs to be true to himself and whoever he is. LIKE WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL? Catholics of the period believed God appointed you to your role in Events. You were part of a Divine plan. To want to be anyone else would be sinful. Also, in reading 500 books on history, I somehow missed that Gender Identification was a Hot Topic in 1561. Who knew?
I also doubt Mary Stuart was nearly as obnoxious as this character. It’s like the writer thought, “Hey, instead of having a likeable heroine to root for, let’s go Game of Thrones on history, and have her be Cersei Lannister!” An ice-cold queen who makes real dumb choices is way better than a smart one who knows how to handle people, yes? Was the point of the movie to make us glad she got executed? I hope not. Coz I was kinda glad. And since Ancestry.com told me she’s my ancestor, that sucks. IMO, you never want to root for your ancestor to get the ax. That is just… wrong. 😛
Which brings me to the other crap-tastic thing about this movie – Elizabeth. Now, I have a bias, because Elizabeth has been my favorite historical figure since I was thirteen. (I know, I discovered her late. You will have to excuse me, I was reading The Babysitter’s Club. And yes, I feel ashamed. ) I was the weird kid reading history at random. When I found Elizabeth, it was pure love. Here was a queen that ruled all by herself. That never married. You can see why that appealed to me, yes? To the girl who hated romance and envisioned living a long, single life? (Nothing has changed.) She was fantastically badass. I read everything I could about her. I watched every movie I could about her. I tend to want to protect her from Stupid Writers.
And there have been a lot of Stupid Writers over the years. This mopey, jealous, insecure woman bears no resemblance to the brilliant queen who outsmarted everyone who ever was dumb enough to underestimate her. She whines because she isn’t married. She envies her “prettier” cousin. She’s jealous of having babies, so she spends all her time making little flower cut-outs (that motif style thing meant to replicate menstrual blood was just weird and obvious symbolism; don’t do that again, it was lame). I ask WHY. WHY is there this assumption that all single, childless women are secretly hollow inside with remorse that they are barren and husband-less? That we stay up all night moping coz we have never popped out a baby between our legs? Is that not a freaking anti-feminist message to tack on to a movie that is trying so hard to be MODERN FEMINISM? LIKE, A LITTLE CONSISTENCY PLEASE COZ WE DID NOT GET IT IN THE BACK ROW.
Plus, obviously the writer hated her, since they had to make sure we always saw her at her worst. Humiliated. Pockmarked. Made-up. Almost hairless. This movie is an inferior “update” of the Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson movie from decades ago; at least there, they got Elizabeth right. Her tantrums. Her fiery nature. Her smarts. Her sass. She was a freaking hailstorm of awesome. Here? She gets a grand confession in front of her cousin that she envied her, she was jealous, she has wasted her years hating her… only to now realize that all those qualities she admire, is going to one day get Mary killed.
I mean, that’s a really nice sentiment and all but give Elizabeth a little dignity when she says it. Also, for the record, Elizabeth didn’t want to sign the death warrant. She balked. She signed it under duress, then swore everyone to secrecy, and was furious when they carried out the execution without her knowledge. Why? Because Elizabeth was also religious. She also feared divine punishment, and the hell that might await her, for you know, executing her relatives. These people did believe in God, they had faith in the divine order, and that they were “appointed by God.” If Elizabeth was appointed to rule England, Mary was appointed to rule Scotland. Killing her to protect her own throne would not have justified it in Elizabeth’s mind.
This compounds my belief that you should not write anything you know nothing about. I happen to know about being devout, because I am. I know what these people believed, because I grew up studying and believing a lot of it. And I can tell when people do not know what they are talking about. When they do not understand what was motivating these figures. When they have no ability to know what genuine fear of hell is like.
As a final note, Mary did not have multiple earrings in her ears, and royalty of the time most certainly did not wear denim. Not only is it lowbrow (ever hear of silk? brocade? grey russet? cloth of gold? that’s what they wore!) … it wasn’t invented yet. 😛
If you enjoyed this rant, subscribe because as soon as Starz drops the fresh hell that is The Constant Princess, I am going to gripe my way through every single episode. If I can stand watching them all. I can already tell it is going to be ripe for complaints. I can’t imagine it being worse than The White Princess, but we’ll see.
Very soon, I may need that drink.