Queens on Screen

Two of the big films out at the moment centre around female British monarchs and document the power struggles between influential women, rather than men. Those two films are, Oscar and BAFTA contender, The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots. They are two very different films but in their own way look at the struggles between powerful women and their personal sacrifices as leaders.

Mary Queen of Scots chronicles the return of Mary Stuart to Scotland after the death of her husband, French King, Francis II, and the difficult cohabitation of two queens, Mary in Scotland and Queen Elizabeth I in England. It's a classical period piece with expansive shots of the stunning Scottish countryside and of candlelit intrigue.

With roughly two hours there is a limit to the depth the historical retelling can reach, but Mary Queen of Scots does a good job of providing a general account of the history so its audience can understand the significance of the events. Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie are powerful as each other’s regal counterparts, showing the strength and fragility of both Queens.

It has been marketed as a tale highly relevant to today’s #metoo movement, and there are some lessons to be learned from the predicament of both Queens, but some references in the dialogue to the place of the period in modern context are rather clunky. It may not be a revelatory addition to historical drama, but Mary Queen of Scots is enjoyable and engaging; a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.   

The Favourite, on the other hand, is the antithesis of the typical period piece. The clash of period visuals and contemporary language and dance brings a dystopian past to the screen. It looks at the relationship between Queen Anne and her close friend Sarah Churchill when Abigail, Sarah’s downtrodden cousin, arrives and rivals Sarah as Anne’s prime confidante. It is what I believe the outcome would be if, on a tight budget and strict timescale, Stanley Kubrick fused A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon.

It presents strong performances all round but the limelight has rightly been on the three leading ladies, Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. But, the most compelling is Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne, delivering the biggest laughs of the film whilst also portraying the tragedy of the character. Whether you're cracking a smile or you heart is sinking, it is likely due to Colman.

Typical of its director, Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite is different to say the least. At first, I was on the fence, just as confused about my opinion on it as I had been with two other Lanthimos films; The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. But the more I thought about the film, the more intense my reverence for it became. It is a maverick film, the like of which I’ve never seen before. It's undoubtedly a memorable watch and I suspect it will be the big winner for the rest of the award season.