After walking the red carpet and before the screening of the movie, “Mary Queen of Scots” author John Guy discussed the history behind the film
Mary Queen of Scots had its New York premiere on December 4th at the famous Paris Theatre. The screening played host to a number of cast and crew members, including the film’s stars Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, as well as co-stars Joe Alwyn and Jack Lowden. Also there were the film’s director, Josie Rourke, and writer, Beau Willimon. Special guests at the premiere included actresses Beanie Feldstein, Claire Danes and Mamie Gummer, as well as writer Garrard Conley and former Ru Paul’s Drag Race contestants Dusty Ray Bottoms and Alexis Michelle.
The screening was introduced by Ms. Rourke, who brought the cast and crew on stage to a round of applause. The film follows the tragic story of Mary Queen of Scots (Saoirse Ronan) and her attempt at ruling Scotland with everyone against her, including the Queen in England, Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie).
Following the screening, the stars and makers of the film, as well as a number of the guests at the showing, went to the afterparty at the world-famous Tavern on the Green. The afterparty had even more celebrities spotted, including actor Corey Stoll, comedian Rachel Dratch and more.
The Knockturnal spoke prior to the screening of the film with historian John Guy, the Mary Queen of Scots author who wrote the 2004 historical non-fiction that inspired. He discussed the work that went into writing the book, as well as what made it to the screen and what didn’t.
The Knockturnal: The book was written in 2004. What went into researching the history behind it?
John Guy: The book came out in 2004, but to write the book and research the book in one sense took me three years, but in another sense, it took me 30 years. Because I could have only done it having done the work in that much longer period to understand how all of these politics work and how all the frames in which these two women were set. But once I got onto the story, I knew that this was good, because I knew that the version that had come down from history was put out by Mary’s enemies in her lifetime and shortly afterward to justify what had been done. I knew from a 21st-century perspective that those were the alternative facts and I tried to recover the truth from historical documents.
The Knockturnal: When you were writing the book, did you find yourself taking sides between Mary and Elizabeth I, or were you trying to keep it more neutral.
John Guy: I wanted to keep it neutral. I believe that in history and indeed in a lot of Elizabeth’s treatment have done Mary a great injustice, but I wanted to correct that. But I also wanted to readjust the historical imbalance and restore the true balance. So that yes, Mary made mistakes. But she was just as able to lead. And also Elizabeth made mistakes—rather silly mistakes—along the way of the story. So the sort of old idea that Mary ruled from passion and not reason, which in the 19th century as well as the 16th century got conflated with sexual passion, instead of ruling from the head. You can prove that that was just a 16th-century stereotype which actually began with John Knox [David Tenant in the film], who thought that Catholic rulers should be deposed.
The Knockturnal: Do you see the story of Mary and Elizabeth as a proto-feminist narrative? Or has that not been the best way to look at things?
John Guy: I think that it is increasingly being looked at that way, but that wasn’t really the way I set out to do it. I did understand because the earlier work that I had done made me realize that in the 16th century a woman ruler had to establish her authority in a way that a male ruler didn’t, because it was a patriarchal and male-dominated society. It was a male’s world and they wanted a king. Elizabeth’s chief minister spent most of his time going around saying “God send our mistress a husband and by him a son so that we may have a masculine succession.” And I mean, he’s the chief minister!
Mary Queen of Scots premieres in select theaters on December 7th before expanding nationwide. It stars Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Joe Alwyn, Jack Lowden, and David Tennent. Directed by Josie Rourke.