The Atlantic

Hollywood Still Doesn’t Know What to Make of Childless Women

Mary Queen of Scots promises heady feminism, but it endorses a pernicious idea: Whatever else she might achieve, a woman who is not a mother is to be pitied.
Source: Focus Features

“I was jealous. Your beauty, your bravery, your motherhood. You seemed to surpass me in every way.”

That’s Elizabeth I, queen of England, meeting her cousin Mary I for the first and only time, in one of the climactic moments of the new movie Mary Queen of Scots. The scene is a strange one for several reasons, the first being its fanciful fabrication—the two queens, in reality, never met in person—but another being the film’s use of the imagined meeting as a chance to flip its own script. Mary, her throne and her life in jeopardy after one of the schemes against her finally proved effective, is asking her cousin for protection; she is begging for her life. And yet it is Elizabeth, in this scene as in so many others in the movie, who is presented as pitiable. The English monarch has a massive army and extensive political power, yes, but Mary is prettier. And Mary is a mother. And so: You seemed to surpass me in every way.

sells itself as an explicitly feminist film, grafting a 21st-century sensibility onto a 16th-century story. It features Mary uttering lines like “Many times you have said I cannot do .” It presents several scenes of the eponymous queen clad in armor, straddling a steed, leading her troops into battle. A little bit , a little bit : the red-haired Scot, tall and proud and inherently regal, carried through by her own steely strength. “BOW TO NO ONE,” the movie’s puts it.

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