SNARK WEEK: Even More About That New Mary Queen of Scots Movie


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I know, I know, I should pace myself because Mary, Queen of Scots, starring Saoirse Ronan as my favorite Scottish queen and her cuz Elizabeth, played by Margot Robbie, won’t be released until November 2018. I already bitched about it when the first promo photos came out. But dammit, there’s more pictorial evidence of this shitshow, and I can’t deal.

First, let’s address the newest cast member we see — Gemma Chan plays Bess of Hardwick. Now we’ve mentioned Bess before as an incredibly interesting Renaissance woman worth her own movie, because she was ambitious, rich, and connected to several of the great dramas of the time. In this flick, she’s probably being brought in because she and her fourth husband were Mary Stuart’s jailers from 1569 until Mary’s execution in 1587.

My issue with Chan being cast as Bess is NOT because she’s of Chinese heritage (hell, so am I). That makes zero difference. My problem is that she’s too damn young, making it look like this movie is about three twenty-something gal-pals in fancy dresses. Hello, Reign, already covered that territory! Bess was born in 1527, Elizabeth I was born in 1533, Mary Stuart was born in 1542. That’s a 15-year spread, and yes, it makes a difference. At the very least, the ladies should look different from each other because of their ages.

Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

Actual portraits of Bess of Hardwick vs. behind-the-scenes photo of Gemma Chan as Bess.

OK, fine, they’re going full-on Reign here. I guess it just gives us more to snark. So let’s have at. You may have seen the next photo already, but to recap — it’s a high-school theater version of QEI’s Darnley Portrait gown!

Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

Why reproduce one of the three most well-known Queen Elizabeth I portraits and then do such a shitty job? Why?

"Elizabeth R" - Darnley portrait recreation

Especially when it’s been reproduced so perfectly on screen already back in 1971 for the BBC’s Elizabeth R? WHY BOTHER!?!

It must be said that this Mary, Queen of Scots movie’s costume designer is Alexandra Byrne, who did the costumes for Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), which is why this final QEI costume looks so familiar. I swear it’s a recycled design from those movies, down to the ladies in waiting and their wacky hair.

Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

Oh joy, random machine embroidery!

But what about our heroine, Mary Stuart herself? Sure, she’s a redhead (Sarah was very impressed by that minor achievement), but otherwise, her hair is crap. Oh, and legitimate contemporary sources and accounts that I’ve found point to Mary’s hair being “chestnut” not exactly orange-toned, FWIW.

Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

Saoirse Ronan as Mary, behind the scenes, and with only two regulation hairpins.

Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

Riding through Scotland, hair flowing free, as you do. We can quibble about riding astride vs. side-saddle, but I have more niggling nits to pick.

The hair is hardly the only failure we need to talk about. We need a sitdown about the 16th-century English (and French and Netherlandish) concept of a “partlet” here, because Ms. Byrne or her team or director Josie Rourke or someone somewhere in the decision-making chain when it came to these designs is really unclear on the concept here. Or they are just fucking with me. IDK.

Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

It looks like she’s wearing a kicky little cropped jacket here.

Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

The phenomenon is more clearly illustrated in Chan’s costume (and yes, I’m ignoring her hair, as it’s the least offensive pictured here).

Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

And again on Ronan. WT-ever-loving-FUCK?!?

This is what those movie costume “partlet” things remind me of:

croptop jackets

And that is not what a 16th-century woman would ever wear, nope nope nope.

In Renaissance terms, a partlet was a sleeveless cloth garment that filled in gown’s deep neckline. It was worn around the neck and shoulders, either over the bodice of a dress or tucked into the bodice. Partlets worn over a gown tended to be black velvet or wool, while partlets worn under were usually fine white linen.

1523 , unknown lady, by Pieter Pourbus

1523 , Netherlands, unknown lady, by Pieter Pourbus. Over partlet in black with white lining and gold trim all around.

1550s, unknown lady, by Hans Eworth

1550s, English unknown lady, by Hans Eworth. Black over partlet with white lining and gold trim at collar.

1568, Diane de France, by the Atelier de Clouet

1568, Diane de France, by the Atelier de Clouet. White partlet woven or embroidered with gold.

So yeah, whatever they’re wearing in the movie, it ain’t right. Maybe they have a cross-promotion deal with H&M or Forever 21 for cropped jackets? (GROSS, GAG, SHOOT ME IN THE FACE PLS.)

Oh and about that hair…

Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

Sure, it could be historically accurate. If the film is set in the 1590s. By which point Mary Queen of Scots was totally dead, so there’s that. Also, the women’s clothes looked very different. Let’s compare:

1595, Elizabeth I, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

This is Queen Elizabeth I painted by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger in 1595. Yep, same hairstyle as the movie! But notice how much older she looks here. Because she’s 62.

1595, Mary Fitton, maid of honor to QEI

This 1595 painting of Mary Fitton, one of QEI’s maids of honor, shows that same hairstyle and the typical wheel farthingale gown it was worn with — which is not in evidence in this movie.

So top to bottom, I’m expecting terrible things from this flick. As if to add insult to injury, OF COURSE, there are metal grommets. OF COURSE there are.

Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)


What most offends you about the upcoming Mary Queen of Scots movie?


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41 Responses

  1. Rosaerona

    Totally agree with this post- so much eye watering nonsense going on! Those partlets!? What the f*ck is going on with them! And they are all too flipping young, what’s wrong with casting actresses of the right age?! Going to go lie down now…

  2. Susan Pola Staples

    FWIW this looks like a travesty all around. Even from a Reign standpoint, it’s a effing mess. And that’s just off the top of my head from these pics.
    The historical MOS was raised at the French Court – she was the Dowager Queen as the widow of Francis II- And clothes were French not pseudo English or WTF – The designer seems stuck in an Elizabethan rut.
    And Margo looks like Queenie from Blackadder.

    • myladyswardrobe

      Actually, I’d say Queenie from Blackadder was way more accurate in dress than this Queen Elizabeth. It really comes to something when a comedy is more accurate historically (costume and even in the history except for the comedy situations) than a so called historical film but it seems to be the fashion for actual historical films and TV to not be accurate and pretend they are.

  3. picasso Manu

    No comments come to mind (brain bleach, ya know), but I have a question: Am I seeing things or in the Unknown English lady portrait by Hans Whatsisname, her boobs are in the middle of her torso? Or am I seeing things?

  4. Brandy Loutherback

    I think the braids picture(Not shown here) offends me the most because its just so…unnecessary! They Could’ve at least tucked it behind her ears! Oh well. now I have more to bitch about!

  5. Nzie

    So, I know it’s snake week, but I’m sincerely grateful to learn all this stuff! I doubt I would notice the mistakes because my knowledge of 16th century clothes is just broad strokes. I find it so interesting and really have learned a lot from you all and other great historical costume/sewing bloggers. :-) Vocab for today: partlet (which is not a bolero).

    Also, is it just me or did they go to a lot of effort to make these mistakes. Also, sleeves are my nemesis in sewing. So adding them to a partlet makes even less sense to me.

  6. Queenie

    Speaking as a Scot related to the House of Stuart, could we just NOT make any more films about MQoS until they can get the actual details of her life right? I mean, she had chestnut/ auburn hair (there are portraits and WRITTEN ACCOUNTS of this), was nearly 6ft tall, and the very dour and Puritanical Scots were outraged when she arrived with her lavish French clothes.

    This looks like a right bodge and I am annoyed already.

  7. Northcountrygal

    Ok – I am not trying to be offensive, but if we want so much to get the actual details of Mary Queen of Scots’ appearance and life right (down to height and hair color) then why is it not curious (at least) that Bess of Hardwick who we know was English and another redhead (who wasn’t in those days?) is to be played by someone who looks Chinese? She may be a fine actress and on stage it would not matter, but one tends to expect more realism from film, I mean people quite understandably get upset at Flora Robson playing Dowager Empress Tzu-Hsi in 55 Days at Peking. Isn’t this much the same?

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Bec. race / ethnicity isn’t essential to telling this story. That’s the difference. In your argument, Saoirse Ronan is American-Irish, so why is she playing a Scottish queen? Again, it doesn’t matter here, that’s not essential to the story. (From how I see it, the ages of the characters, combined w/the shitty costuming, as inferred by these stills, makes it look like they’re all just gal-pal contemporaries, so that’s more relevant.)

      ’55 Days at Peking’ is a story about colonialism told from, by what I can tell, a colonialist POV, so having a British actress play a major Chinese character would be offensive. Race / ethnicity is a crucial part of the story there. Big difference.

      • themodernmantuamaker

        I totally get what you’re saying and am typically a fan of colour-blind casting, and am not bothered by it here, either. However, I think perhaps the point being made above is that issue was taken here with the inaccurate hair colour on MQoS but ignored in the case of Bess of Hardwick. We have pictorial evidence of BoH that shows she had light/reddish hair while the actor cast has black hair, so is that not also technically a mis-representation of that historical person?

        On a side note, seeing an asian actor in historical western dress (or some gross approximation thereof) did make me think it would be really cool to see some stories of /around early modern global trade between Europe and Asia and the cross-cultural influences that resulted – there were high-status Asian women in early modern Europe as the wives and children of high-ranking trading company officials, etc. And European women in Asia, etc. I just think it would be really great to see some of that cultural blending since we don’t typically associate it with that period and we also see so little of the dynamic interactions between Europe and east Asia during that time.

        • themodernmantuamaker

          Addendum: My second paragraph would, of course, refer more to the 17th than 16th century.

        • Trystan L. Bass

          I’m not the one who gets hung up on MQoS’s hair color — that’s Sarah (as noted above). And I pointed out that it’s not a big deal either. Honestly, getting actors that look identical to historical figures is both impossible & problematic, so I’m not hung up on it.

          Re: global trade between Europe and Asia — there’s a new book out ‘The Sultan and the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam’ by Jerry Brotton that I’m starting about QEI’s trade w/the Ottoman Empire. Yes! There’s so much fascinating history between Europe & Asia, India, the Middle East, & Africa that is not explored by the mainstream media.

          • themodernmantuamaker

            Ooh, that sounds like it could be a really interesting book! I feel like there’s so much potential in that area of history and am getting tired of the unending focus on “the New World”, especially since it’s always the same kind of narrative. There was so much more going on in the world than this! I admit, I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of Chinese/Japanese women coming to live in Europe as the wives of Dutch east India company officials. I think a story like how a woman from east Asia negotiates a new life in early modern Europe has a lot of potential for being both really interesting and visually gorgeous – going from the surroundings. aesthetics and dress of her homeland to those of Northern Europe during the Dutch golden age – ooh, maybe sort of contrasting a portrait taken of her before she left and one taken of her in her new home. Ooh! Or Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s time spent at the Ottoman court! So many possibilities!

    • Mary

      I wouldn’t have a problem if the Asian actress played a background character, but her playing a character who was white isn’t historically accurate. It just comes off as forced diversity (and no I don’t mind diversity, just not having it shoved in my face) by the casting directors and such. If a white person played an Asian person, I’d be seen as racist and offensive, yet this isn’t because the actress isn’t white and according to some people, white people are the only ones who can be racist bigots who insult other cultures, which they aren’t. Overall, the film has poorly constructed costumes sadly. Why does almost every MQoS film or TV show lately always have inaccurate costumes while the films about Elizabeth have mostly accurate period gowns? Like I don’t get it.

      • mother of ballots (@bad_wisdom)

        You’re basically saying, “I don’t mind diversity as long as it doesn’t happen.” Actors here and now in the 21st century are diverse, and they don’t deserve to be sacrificed on the altar of “historical accuracy,” especially, as pointed out above, when the character’s ethnicity doesn’t matter to the story.
        “according to some people, white people are the only ones who can be racist bigots” That is not the argument at all. Rather, white people are the ones in a position of power in the global entertainment industry, and their choices as to who gets or doesn’t get represented in media have repercussions around the world. If a Japanese film company decides to film a European story with Japanese actors, guess how many people outside Japan are gonna see it? Very few. When big-budget productions released globally whitewash certain characters or choose to tell only stories where you “have to” keep the cast white for “historical accuracy” (suuuuure, as if), that’s gonna have an effect all around the world.

      • HollyDolly

        I saw a preview at the movies when waiting for Happytime Murders to begin.
        !. Bess of Hardwick was an older white woman, NOT ASIAN.
        2.Rizzo was an Italian, not a mix of black and hispanic, like the actor who plays him in the movie. Now if Rizzo was from the south of italy, maybe i could see it since below a certain parall, think from a little above Naples on downward, those italians are considered blacks by most italians, especially in the north.
        3. The costumes for the women are gawd awful. The mens appear to be decent, but the womens are horrible. How hard is it to do historical research by going to the national Portrait Gallery in London, looking at historical portraits posted on Pinterest and getting books on historical costume from the library. I could design better costumes that would be way more accurate.
        4. In the movie the two main characters, Elizabeth and Mary meet. THEY DID NO SUCH THING IN REAL LIFE.
        I’ll watch it maybe when they put it on tv, but i’m not wasting money on this. And th ecostumes for the ladies are poorly sewn too.

  8. Andrew Schroeder

    This all reeks of directorial/producer interference. Alexandra Byrne has better taste than this (though she would have had nothing to do with these hair… choices). And I agree, the still of Elizabeth and her ladies looks right out of Elizabeth: The Golden Age. She probably used the same costumers to make the gowns.

  9. Alice

    I’d like to point out the fact that the actresses do have a 13 year spread in terms of age, with Ronan at 23 and Chan at 35. This in no way excuses the lack of visual age differentiation, but at least they were close with the age gaps? Ish?
    But the costumes look like utter crap, so what do their ages matter anyways… ;)
    Also, can we for once have a non-tudor-centric 16th century movie? There was a lot of other stuff going on in the world at this point. Thanks, Hollywood.

  10. Hawke

    I actually think that picture of Chan looks super cute(the one with the bad partlet). Between the fabric choice and the jacket, it’d be great for a steampunk take on the Renaissance….just….not the actual Renaissance.

  11. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    Am I loosing it or are half these gowns in blue denim? Because the wealthy upper class and nobility would totally wear rough sail cloth?!

  12. M.E. Lawrence

    Physical casting can seem/be so arbitrary, and I grow more annoyed with this as I age. To me, Ronan looks far more like Elizabeth Tudor than she does MQoS. And get that bloody hair up!

  13. Brooke Welborn

    So disappointing and so much weirdness. I’m currently reading the bio of MQoS by John Guy and this is not at all how I imagined it would end up looking even just from his descriptions and the portraits of her and others. In regards to the horseback riding though he does reference that it was known that Mary did rid astride in breeches of Florentine serge under her skirts, a fashion introduced by Catherine de Medici (sadly no specific footnote.)

  14. Pandorrah

    I’ve been portraying Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury at a Renaissance Faire for going on 5 years now…I was actually pretty excited that it was looking like Shrewbs was finally going to get some decent face-time on film.


  15. Adina

    I kept looking at the photo with the hairpins, and there are a bunch of white diagonal slashes all over the picture, which I’m guessing are raindrops. I think the hairpins might just be raindrops that happened to be caught at the right time in the photo.
    Which makes it all worse.

    • Chris

      Did you happen to notice that in the same photo, she is wearing a rain coat/cape with a zipper and there is a very modern umbrella in the shot? Which means clearly this is not a shot FROM the film, but rather from the film SHOOT, (“behind the scenes” so to speak) before camera was actually rolling. So if they ARE hairpins rather than raindrops, I’m sure they were removed (along with the modern raincoat) before the camera actually rolled.

  16. JVP

    Can you give a short review of what Alexandra Byrne do in the movie Elizabeth in terms of historical acuracy ?

  17. Deborah Parkes

    I hate that they modernize historcal costumes! I love Elizabeth R and they actually stuck to the costumes from paintings and actually did there research.

  18. Chris

    Why is everyone here so hung up on historical accuracy? This is a MOVIE, written by the creator of “House of Cards” and directed by a theatre director. I actually saw the movie last night at the world premiere, and I enjoyed it greatly for what it was: a beautiful piece of art based on historical events. Not a documentary (along with metal grommets and certain fabrics, they also didn’t have cameras in the 1500-1600s), not a bio-pic, but rather a drama. Have you ever seen a stage (or film) production of a Shakespeare play set in a different time period or that took some license with certain elements such as casting, production design, or costumes which actually had more impact on a contemporary audience than had it been 100% historically accurate? See the movie when it comes out and judge it as a whole before you start picking apart the details. Otherwise, if all you are interested in is historical accuracies just go to a museum and look at paintings–because I’m sure no painters of this period ever embellished or changed any details in their works of art.


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