Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nine queens who deserve biopics

It seems as if every year there's a (usually British) period piece about some bright young queen (or duchess). This year, so far, we have The Young Victoria and The Tudors, which is finally returning to television this Sunday for its final season. Some of these royals have been done to death (no pun intended to Queen Anne Boleyn) and frankly, if I see one more Queen Elizabeth I, I think I'm going to scream. Bette Davis did it brilliantly enough in 1939; why do it again, and again, and again? I'm looking at YOU Elizabeth: The Golden Age. With all these period pieces, I've often wondered why some monarchs get more attention than others. I figured I'd list some of the queens whose lives are worthy of Hollywood's attention. I would love to do a more expansive international list of monarchs, but I figured some aren't known well enough outside of their countries for Hollywood to pay attention. Here's the list:

Isabella I of Castile
: 1451 - 1504
The facts: Along with her husband King Ferdinand II of Aragon, she began the process of uniting Spain. Isabella completed the Reconquista, established the cruel Spanish Inquisition, and was a patron of Christopher Columbus in 1492. She was also Catherine of Aragon's mother.
Previous representations: She was portrayed by Sigourney Weaver in Ridley Scott's 1492: Conquest of Paradise, which focused on Isabella's relationship with Christopher Columbus. I've never seen it, but by all accounts it was pretty fucking terrible. She has also been portrayed by Rachel Weisz in Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. The film was one of my favorites of 2006, but it was a largely fictionalized representation of Isabella I.
Period to portray: If they were to make a film about her life, I'd cut out the life arch entirely. The most important parts of Isabella's reign took place in 1492, with the Reconquista, the Inquisition, and Columbus stumbling upon the New World.
Actress to portray Isabella: Kirstin Scott Thomas. She is seven years older than Isabella was in 1492, but she's an elegant, beautiful actress who could pull it off.

Queen Mary I of England
Years: 1516-17 – 1558
The facts: Mary I reigned as the fourth Tudor on the English throne after her half brother King Edward VI. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. She restored England to Catholicism and earned the name “Bloody Mary” when she had Protestants burned at the stake. She was succeeded by her half sister Queen Elizabeth I.
Period to portray: I'd love to see a film present the few years she spent on the throne, with flashbacks to her life as a young princess. I wouldn't focus too much on her younger years though, since The Tudors did a little of that in its second season.
Actress to portray Mary: Emily Watson. She was offered the title role in 1998's Elizabeth, but it ultimately went to Cate Blanchett. I can't imagine anything better than seeing Emily Watson play a British queen. This time it would be all her own and not yet another interpretation of an over explored monarch.

de' Medici
: 1519 - 1589
The facts: Catherine married Henry II of France. She was the mother of three French kings – Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III. She served as a regent of France and guided her sons during the civil religious war in France. Her reign is often referred to as the age of Catherine de' Medici. She also helped raise Mary, Queen of Scots.
Period to portray: The only worthwhile movie about Catherine should take place while she guided three of her sons through the French civil wars. Her first son, Francis II was crowned when she was 40 and Catherine died at the age of 69. The near thirty year span is not only the most interesting part of her life, but one of the most interesting and least recognized periods of French history.
Actress to portray Catherine: Helena Bonham Carter. It seems an odd choice. But I firmly believe that Helena Bonham Carter can play anyone, and frankly she can do whatever the hell she wants. I love her and want her in every movie ever. Since I can't get that, I'll just dream of her playing the most impressive queen in history.

Lady Jane Gray

Years: 1536-37 - 1554
The facts: Known as The Nine Days' Queen, Jane Gray reigned as queen of England for just over a week. She was executed by her cousin Mary I.
Previous representation: Helena Bonham Carter played Lady Jane in the 1986 film Lady Jane. That's been long enough to warrant an excuse to revisit the young, doomed monarch.
Period to portray: Jane's entire life. It was short enough to create a biopic that doesn't last three agonizing hours, and long enough to fill said biopic with an interesting story.
Actress to portray Jane: I'm torn between Saoirse Ronan and Emily Browning. Saoirse could bring a great deal of strength to a character often regarded as weak and pitiable. If Emily Browning played her, then we'd have an entirely different Jane. I think it would be a lot like Sofia Coppola's stylized Marie Antoinette.

Mary, Queen of Scots

: 1542-1587
The facts: Mary was made queen of Scotland a mere six days after her birth and became Catherine de' Medici's daughter-in-law. She was forced to abdicate the Scottish throne at the age of 25 and was later arrested and executed by her cousin Elizabeth I.
Previous representations: Mary has been played by Great Kate (Hepburn, that is) and Vanessa Redgrave. Word is, Scarlett Johansson was lined up to play her in Mary, Queen of Scots. Look, I know that I now have to eat my words after hyping this girl to death circa 2003, but wasn't The Spirit punishment enough?
Period to portray: Like many people, I've found Mary's downfall a lot more interesting than her years as reigning queen of Scotland. The near twenty years with abdications, trials, arrests, and beheading seem more interesting to me than the royal politics of her reign. 2007 historical novel The Other Queen focuses a lot on her life, but since Hollywood has butchered Phillipa Gregory's work before (curse you again Scarlett), I would approach that novel with extreme caution.
Actress to portray Mary: Welsh actress Eve Myles. She isn't very well known outside of Britain, but she is marvelous on British sci-fi show Torchwood, and she has an unusual, but regal beauty. And she's great at kicking the crap out of things, and then crying on cue.

: 1650-1687
The facts: I realize that Nell was an actress, and never a queen. But she was a mistress to King Charles II of England and had two of his sons. Besides, I make rules so I can break them.
Period to portray: Nell's life in its entirety would be the only way to go. She has become an integral part of English history because she was that rare sort of mistress – she grew up in the slums, worked as an actress, and was speculated to have even worked as a child prostitute. Most mistresses were aristocratic (like Nell's rival Louise de Kérouaille), which makes Nell's story a Cinderella-like story to many history buffs.
Actress to portray Nell: Anna Paquin. Sure, she spends most of her time falling for the one hot vampire that isn't Edward Cullen, but Anna has proven herself to be a fine actress.

Mary II of England

: 1662-1694
The facts: Mary was crowned after the Glorious Revolution that overthrew her Catholic father James II. James II was the last Catholic monarch of England. She ruled with her husband and cousin, William III of England. Their unprecedented joint rule was called “William and Mary”. She was succeeded by her sister Anne I.
Period to portray: Mary's five year reign with her husband William. Their joint rule is the reason why Mary, an otherwise reserved woman, is so well remembered.
Actress to portray Mary: Kate Winslet. We already know she can do anything, so I'm dying to see Kate play a queen. And since I can't imagine a Mary without an Anne I would love to see Kate's doppelgänger Sophia Myles play Anne. Sophia played Madam de Pompadour on Doctor Who, and she was great in the role.

Catherine the Great
: 1729-1796
The facts: Catherine became the Russian empress after her husband Peter III was overthrown. She was accused of assassinating him some months later.
Period to portray: The most interesting aspect of Catherine's life was how she managed to overthrow her husband without being imprisoned, or executed. The period between her marriage to Peter and her brilliant takeover of the Russian throne would make a pretty intriguing movie.
Actress to portray Catherine: Kate Beckinsale. This is mostly because I don't think she often gets roles that are good enough. She impressed me as Ava Gardner in The Aviator. If she can pull off a performance without getting entirely upstaged by Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn, then there is something magical about this woman that isn't recognized enough.

Empress Josephine
Years: 1763-1814
The facts: Josephine is most famous for being Emperor Napoléon's first wife.
Period to portray: The only period worth telling is the one involving her relationship with Napoléon. It was passionate, contentious, and heartbreaking.
Actress to portray Josephine: Marion Cotillard. I'm only familiar with a few of her movies (La Vie en Rose, Love me if you Dare, A Very Long Engagement) but since I have confidence in her talent, I'd like nothing more than to see Marion in a period drama.

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