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LOCARNO 2013

Mary Queen of Scots: a queen’s line of work

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- Thomas Imbach’s film walks into a minefield where the risk of producing a lame film is very high

Mary Queen of Scots: a queen’s line of work

“Quality historical novels are rare amphibian animals, which, in the genetic order of storytelling, are at a hidden crossroads between shameful cartoon and the literary masterpiece Memoirs of Hadrian” – Alessandro Baricco.

Minus a few changes, Baricco’s comments can be applied to historical films too: from Troy to The Profession of Arms. Mary Queen of Scots [+see also:
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by Thomas Imbach, in competition at the 66th Locarno Film Festival, has walked into a minefield where the risk of producing a lame film and falling into a number of stylistic and technical traps is very high. 

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Director Thomas Imbach has chosen to bring Stefan Zweig’s biography, Mary Stuart, to life, following the book’s choice of giving priority to the psychology of the Scottish queen rather than historical elements.

Mary Stuart, escaping the Scottish-English war, was brought up in the refined French royal court of Catherine de’ Medici. She is initially destined to wear the French crown, but her young husband dies from ill health and she returns to Scotland, a country devastated by war. Her cousin, Elizabeth I, has just acceded to the English throne. To Mary, Elizabeth is like a twin sister, a woman she can confide in freely. Mary marries again and gives birth to an heir to the throne, but her new husband, Lord Darnley, reveals himself to be a dull and disloyal character. When she meets the love of her life, Count Bothwell, Mary arranges for Darnley to be assassinated and marries the count. Scottish nobility is appalled by her actions and the blind passion behind them. They revolt. Mary, who has lost the support of her own subjects, is forced to separate from her beloved Bothwell in order to avoid a bloody battle. Desperate, she turns to Elizabeth for help. The queen of England will lock her up in a golden cage for almost nineteen years. Mary will only come out of captivity on the way to her execution.  

As Imbach explained during a press conference: “In the beginning, I was not sure I wanted to make a historical film. I thought of an African Marie Stuart, or a modern figure like Paris Hilton, but in the end I decided to take up the challenge of a costume film and confront myself with the period in which these events took place. I was greatly inspired by Tarkovski’s Andreï Roublev and Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.”

Thanks to a credible Camille Rutherford in the role of Mary, the film manages to stand on its own two feet, but this is still not enough to give it the airs of a film worthy of a Golden Leopard…

(Translated from Italian)

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