Larger-than-life female power-houses dominate the holiday season in several films. Mary Queen of Scots features two queens vying for supremacy. The Favourite highlights two lesser females of the nobility jockeying for queenly favor with hilarious, sometimes shocking, results. And in Mary Poppins Returns a larger-than-life nanny blows in from the sky not with a royal scepter exactly but a regal ability to wave her magic wand and make things happen—of course with a little bit of spit-spot elbow grease dispensing the fairy dust.
The two historical movies about royal queens bookend the tales of the monarchs of the Stewart dynasty. Mary Queen of Scots is the oft told story of the battle between Queen Mary of Scotland (Saoirse Ronan) and Queen Elizabeth of England (Margot Robbie) in the last half of the 16th century.
Elizabeth comes to the English throne after the death of her practicing Catholic sister, Mary Tudor. Elizabeth is the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife after divorcing Mary’s mother Catherine of Aragon. Anne’s beheading punishment by fickle Henry VIII is well known. But Anne’s Protestant faith continued with her daughter Elizabeth who, like her Father before her, reviled the Catholic religion. After Henry’s and his Catholic daughter Queen Mary’s deaths, Elizabeth is the last royal standing who is not a Catholic. Anglican England embraces her. But the Catholic Church sees her as a bastard usurper; during Elizabeth’s reign the Pope gives license to anyone who would kill her and install the favored Catholic royal, Mary Queen of Scots, in her place.
Mary returns to Scotland from France once her young French husband dies in 1560. This sets up a double conflict for the Scottish queen. While she has the support of the Pope in Rome, most Scots are Protestants (Calvinists). They resist an uppity queen who attempts to bully them toward Catholicism.
Mary tries hard not to alienate Queen Elizabeth at least in the beginning. And Elizabeth walks a fine line as the designated queen with a great army but with a weaker claim to the English throne because her mother was considered by many to be a common-life wife. Mary, on the other hand, is the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister. Thus, if you assume Elizabeth is illegitimate, Mary has a greater, Rome-sanctified claim to the English throne.
The movie details the dramatic machinations and love affairs of both queens. Only one survives—and royal against royal is quite an epic battle. Despite their operating in long petty coats and whalebone corsets, these two women have iron constitutions worthy of an Avengers’ movie. Access the trailer here: https://trailers.apple.com/trailers/focus_features/mary-queen-of-scots/
The Favouritefast forwards 125 years with Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) on the English throne. She is the great, great granddaughter of Mary Queen of Scots since Elizabeth died childless and Mary’s son James came to rule Scotland and England together for the first time in history.
However, by the time Anne is seated upon the throne, the kingdom is in a bit of a mess—and she is too. Notoriously unstable and chronically ill, Anne marries well but sadly undergoes17 pregnancies, none of which produces an adult heir. Interestingly, Anne is bisexual and finds herself the prize between warring female cousins, Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone), who vie for the queen’s favor both above the petticoats and under the sheets.
As Sarah and Abigail tussle to gain influence over Anne, the tension mounts. The machinations of these three females almost make Elizabeth and Mary look like sisters from Little Women. Access the trailer here: https://trailers.apple.com/trailers/fox_searchlight/the-favourite/
Finally, a breath of fine British air blows in from the east when Mary Poppins Returnsto England to assist the Banks family once again in their trials with money, familial affections, and pesky bankers.
Dazzling Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to help the family of Michael Banks (from the original Julie Andrews movie) who is facing financial ruin yet again. She’s assisted by Lin Manuel Miranda of Hamiltonfame who’s traded in chimney-sweep duties for lamp lighting. He, along with a legion of bike-bound lamplighter pals, dances, sings, and charms the way to happiness ever after, Mary Poppins-style. The music is delightful. The dances are joyous. The characters are charming in every single way. We dare you not to whistle as you leave the theater. And a few familiar faces pop up along the way to bring a smile to your face—and a tear to your eye. Access the trailer here: https://trailers.apple.com/trailers/disney/mary-poppins-returns/
Clearly, women from ye old England have a certain panache that seems to pick up speed with the passage of the years. One can only imagine these characters in a room together! Go to your local theater and don’t miss a minute of these six women, three queens, and more than a little bit of magic.