Allure Magazine proclaims: “Gemma Chan Wants to End Whitewashing — In Hollywood and in History Books”
Back in January, I wrote an article criticizing director Josie Rourke’s “colorblind casting” choice in her historical film Mary Queen of Scots. Mary Queen of Scots recounts the sixteenth century struggle between Mary I of Scotland and Queen Elizabeth I over the throne of England. The film is largely historically accurate, depending on the source.
However, several black actors and one actress of Chinese decent appear in prominent roles, particularly Mary Seton (Izuka Hoyle), Lord Randolph (Adrian Lester), Bess of Hardwick (Gemma Chan), Andrew Ker of Fawdonside (Nathan East), and the English Ambassador to Scotland, George Dalgleish (Adrian Derrick-Palmer). Being either English or Scottish in the 1500s, of course, all of these people were pasty white.
Defenders of this peculiar casting choice have strained logic past the point of credulity, and once again, writers like Allure’s Jessica Chia have fallen back on that tired cliche “Internet trolls” to dismiss criticism of Gemma Chan’s role as Bess of Hardwick in Mary Queen of Scots.
“Why are actors of color, who have fewer opportunities anyway, only allowed to play their own race?” Chan asked. “In the past, the role would be given to a white actor who would tape up their eyes and do the role in yellowface. John Wayne played Genghis Khan. If John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, I can play Bess of Hardwick.”
An all-star cast weaves a sixteenth-century soap opera in this colorful attempt to breathe new life into a familiar story.
Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Justin Chadwick, The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) was based on a novel of the same name by Philippa Gregory. Billed as a scandalous portrayal of King Henry VIII’s courtship and eventual marriage to Anne Boleyn, this film seems quaint by today’s standards. Its release was timed to capitalize on Showtime’s The Tudors (2007-2010), but lacked that show’s outstanding performances.
The film opens in Tudor England during the reign of King Henry VIII (Eric Bana). Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) and his brother-in-law Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) learn the King is unhappy with his wife, Katherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent), who has not yet produced a male heir. They sense an opportunity to advance their social standing by installing one of Boleyn’s daughters as the King’s mistress. His daughter Mary (Scarlett Johansson) has already wed William Carey (Benedict Cumberbatch), so they turn to Anne (Natalie Portman).
Over the objections of his wife, Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas), Thomas invites the King to his estate to introduce him to Anne. Things get complicated when the King is injured in a hunting accident and he falls in love with Mary when she tends to his injury. Mary becomes the King’s mistress, and Anne is exiled to France for trying to marry an earl without the King’s knowledge.
Anne returns from France a transformed woman, and despite Mary giving birth to a baby boy, she sets her sights on winning the King’s affection and becoming Queen. It’s an all-too-familiar story, which ends in an all-too-familiar way. Unfortunately, the filmmakers chose to continue the story past its logical conclusion, when Anne wins the rivalry with Mary for the King’s affection.
Historic authenticity is cast to the wind in this revisionist costume drama that feels like it was written by a freshman Women’s Studies major.
Directed by Josie Rourke with a screenplay by Beau Willimon, Mary Queen of Scots (2018) was based on the book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy. Like many films released this year, it has strong female leads, a diverse cast, and progressive social messaging, but checking all the right boxes on the SJW playlist wasn’t enough to save this film from mediocrity.
The year is 1560, and the young and beautiful Mary Tudor (Saoirse Ronan) returns home, where she is out of place in a dreary Scottish castle. Her half-brother, James, Earl of Moray (James McArdle), has been ruling as regent, alongside a bevy of colorless and perpetually-angry Protestant men. Her appearance in Scotland alarms her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England (Margot Robbie). Elizabeth, a Protestant, is not seen as a legitimate ruler by her Catholic subjects. She seeks to gain influence over Mary by arranging a marriage with Elizabeth’s own lover, Robert Dudley (Joe Alwyn).
Instead, Mary marries the charming and charismatic Lord Henry Darnley (Jack Lowden), who pulls a Jeckyll-and-Hyde routine and becomes a drunken lecher on their wedding night. Things get complicated for the childless Queen Elizabeth when Mary becomes pregnant, producing an heir for her dynasty and strengthening her claim to the English throne. Can Mary fend off attacks from her domestic critics and convince Elizabeth to acknowledge her as England’s rightful ruler?
Mary Queen of Scots couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a film about the rivalry between two queens or a revisionist biopic of its titular character, so it does neither particularly well. This ill-conceived and poorly executed film also missed a chance to let its leading ladies shine. As Queen Elizabeth, the talented Margot Robbie goes to waste as a costumed mannequin who practically disappears for the middle third of the film.
The beautiful cinematography and wonderful acting in this over-the-top period piece barely makes up for its historical inaccuracy and a grueling 2-hour run time.
Written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite is artistically filmed, the acting is wonderful, and cinematography top notch. If you’re looking for a realistic account of Queen Anne’s 18th Century British court, however, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The Favourite chooses to enshrine gossip and rumor as historic fact, while delivering a film that is as tedious as it is tantalizing.
As the film opens, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is deciding whether to continue a war with France after an English victory, or sue for peace. Her natural inclination, and that of opposition leader Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), is for peace, but her influential friend and Keeper of the Privy Purse Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), wife of Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss), wants to prosecute the war to the bitter end. During negotiations, a dirty but charming Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives seeking employment in Lady Sarah’s household.
Things get complicated when Abigail discovers Queen Anne and Lady Sarah’s dirty little secret, and uses it to her advantage to get closer to the Queen. Abigail and Lady Sarah engage in a private war for the Queen’s affection, while Robert Harley and Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn) conspire to use Abigail to get closer to the Queen, wh0 only has time for one friend, I guess. Who will become the Queen’s favourite?
Using extreme wide-angles (shot with Panavision lenses) to achieve a sense of expanse even in a small room, the filmmakers capture a delightfully Baroque portrayal of an outlandish and amoral British aristocracy. The acting is top-notch, with Emma Stone giving one of the best performances of her career. Olivia Colman should receive an Oscar nod for her portrayal of Queen Anne. The film, however, could’ve been improved by cutting at least 20 minutes of silence, screeching violins, and arthouse chapter titles.
The new film Mary Queen of Scots employs black and Asian actors and actresses to play white roles, while missing an opportunity to show England’s historic 16th Century diversity.
Written by Beau Willimon, directed by Josie Rourke, and based on the book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy, Mary Queen of Scots recounts the struggle between Mary I of Scotland and Queen Elizabeth I over the throne of England, which they both claimed. The film takes place between Mary’s return to Scotland in 1561 and her execution (sorry, spoiler) in 1587.
From what I can tell, the film is largely historically accurate, depending on the source. However, several black actors and one actress of Chinese decent appear in prominent roles, particularly Mary Seton (Izuka Hoyle), Lord Randolph (Adrian Lester), Bess of Hardwick (Gemma Chan), Andrew Ker of Fawdonside (Nathan East), and the English Ambassador to Scotland, George Dalgleish (Adrian Derrick-Palmer). Being either English or Scottish in the 1500s, of course, all of these people were pasty white.
Director Josie Rourke declared she wasn’t going to make another “all-white period film,” but did she have to throw historic accuracy out the window to do so? Not at all. Elizabethan England was quite diverse (relatively speaking).
There are records of African musicians in the courts of England and Scotland as far back as the late 15th Century. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a small community of African traders, musicians, entertainers, and domestic servants grew up in London. Elizabeth herself was said to have employed a black servant, musician, and dancer.
‘The Favourite’ indulges contemporary attitudes about sex at the expense of history.
The Favourite, a recently-released period film written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, imagines an illicit sexual relationship between Queen Anne of Great Britain and two of her female confidants. But is that accurate, or anachronistic?
Queen Anne (played by Olivia Colman) ruled England, Scotland, and Ireland (and then Great Britain) from 1702 to 1714. The film takes place during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, the husband of Queen Anne’s close friend, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, was commander of Allied forces in that conflict. Marlborough was caught between the two political parties in Britain: the Tories and Whigs. Queen Anne favored the Tories, who wanted peace, but the Whigs had gained considerable power alongside Sarah Churchill (played by Rachel Weisz), who had the Queen’s ear and advocated on their behalf.
Sarah Churchill was notoriously headstrong and spoke her mind freely and openly, which began to get on the Queen’s nerves. In 1711, Queen Anne dismissed the Duke of Marlborough from service over charges of embezzlement. John and Sarah Churchill went into exile a year later. Sarah’s break with the Queen was exacerbated by her rivalry with her cousin, Abigail (Hill) Masham (played by Emma Stone). Sarah tried to have Abigail removed from the Queen’s household, and when she could not, accused Abigail and the religiously conservative Queen of having a sexual relationship.
That’s where The Favourite comes in. The Favourite depicts Sarah as a jealous lover carrying on an illicit sexual affair with the Queen. It conspicuously omits Queen Anne’s great religious devotion and the fact she was married to Prince George of Denmark, though he died in 1708. The only evidence of a love affair comes from romantic letters written between the two and rumors spread by political rivals.
This Netflix film praised for its historical accuracy is missing that essential ingredient to make it great.
Robert the Bruce’s fourteenth-century rebellion against England is cinematically recounted in this Netflix feature that tries to cram as much history as possible in 121 minutes. Directed by David Mackenzie, Outlaw King (2018) brings to life all the intrigue and violence of late medieval feudalism. Though the film comes across as authentic and makes a genuine effort to get the history right, it lacks some essential ingredients to break into the top tier.
As the film opens, the defeated Scottish lords are vowing fealty to King Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane), including Robert Bruce (Chris Pine), Lord John III Comyn (Callan Mulvey), and Aymer de Valence (Sam Spruell). Robert has history with King Edward I’s son, Edward, Prince of Wales (Billy Howle), a weaker man who just wants his father’s approval. As a parting gift, King Edward I sends his goddaughter, Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh), to become Robert’s wife.
Things get complicated when Robert’s father dies, and Robert is left competing with Lord Comyn for the Scottish throne. When Robert learns King Edward I executed William Wallace, he senses an opportunity to renew the rebellion. Lord Comyn wants to remain loyal to England, so Robert brutally murders him in a church and then gathers an army. Unfortunately, Aymer de Valence has also remained loyal to England, ambushes Robert’s army in a forest, and destroys it.
Robert and a few companions are forced to flee. He sends his wife and daughter into hiding, where Edward, Prince of Wales captures them and brutally murders Robert’s brother. Robert decides to fight a guerilla war, culminating in the Battle of Loudoun Hill, where Robert uses the boggy terrain and clever tactics to his advantage. He defeats the English army and humiliates the Prince of Wales, who is revealed to be a miserable coward. Robert and Elizabeth are reunited and live happily ever after.