MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS(2018)
It’s befuddling how when societal progress makes us take a hundred steps forward, a single conventional trail of thought threatens to throw us back to the dark ages in an instant. It can happen within a moment or a considerable point of time. Therein lies the incalculable dichotomy of being humans in the first place. So such a fact of life is bound to be historically searing and I found that to be exhibited rather well in MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS (2018)
Here is a mighty tale that involves two queens claiming their rightful share, owning their intelligence and agency in a world where the only administrative apparatus around them is populated by power hungry men. The smell of conspiracy as regards expansion of empire and acquisition is pungent. So while the conventional model of society is rampant, the gender constructs have already been broken asunder by their definitive presence on the throne. They call out their advisors’ recommendations coloured by their dog eared ideals and have the inborn authority to make their decisions. They also express the inevitability of this skewed gender ratio working to divide two women. So Mary’s beauty, youth is served as a counterpoint to Elizabeth’s middle aged monarch whose physicality has been literally scarred by a bout with measles. Mary’s ambition, too, is pitched against the veteran Queen’s experience.
Director Josie Rourke, a theatre virtuoso, gives it a very contemporary pulse then by stripping it of verbose arguments, making the timelessness of the issue central to the telling. This brewing cauldron of orchestrated sibling rivalry almost reminded me of how the distasteful feud between screen legends BETTE DAVIS and JOAN CRAWFORD was mostly pushed as an agenda by the studio machinery for decades. That creation of an intragender divide still rules our world as we know it and this is where the politics of its currency sparks this script to life.
This screen adaptation of the titular legend is given its power by Saoirse Ronan’s fiery commitment throughout tempered by an older Queen Elizabeth’s vulnerability in her later years, a kind of resignation that comes with the passage of time and advancing years irrespective of gender, when greater wisdom makes even the most legendary figure understand the futility of bloodshed orchestrated by male egos. Margot Robbie totally embodies those emotions. I’m only going by what’s put up on screen based as it is on a historian/writer’s scholarship regarding the epoch through the years. That dual interplay is a welcome embodiment of the parallels that united both cousins even if they never met in real life. On that note, the reversal of this fact makes way for the highlight of this screenplay where both meet in a modest cottage camouflaged by curtains and a tense and yet empathetic exchange of words reveals their innate humanity for better or worse. Also intensely mounted is the dehumanization of one of Mary’s beloved courtiers who is given an ultimate death blow owing to his sexuality and the politics of hate around it.
With all the misogyny around them and the mutual feelings of courage and fortitude to guide them, both are given a beautifully layered treatment by the two young actors. MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS hence becomes a cautionary tale and a dirge to the countless narratives of women becoming each other’s worst enemies, by dint of the world around them and not their own volition per se.
Also I love the fact that Elizabeth was the original feminist firebrand, choosing to not marry or have a child owing to her own choice and not just entertaining some grand illusion of becoming a veritable VIRGIN QUEEN for her empire.
AFTER THE WEDDING(2019)
From the heights of empire, we come down to humbler preoccupations of individuals in the everyday. However, AFTER THE WEDDING, an English language adaptation of Susanne Bier’s Danish original by the same name, recognizes the inequities of social positions dominated by wealth and the ego systems that control our behaviours.
That is evident in Julianne Moore’s millionaire entrepreneur and her condescending, sweet but haughty interactions with the humble and dedicated Michelle Williams. Their meeting entails a chance for the former to fund the latter’s orphanage back in India. The words exchanged clearly posit that class consciousness is pretty much a part of our fabric of existence. The one being provided for has to be vulnerable and meek to get share of finances for a cause she believes in. Director Bart Freundlich not only achieves this level of believability by keeping it real on those fronts, with subtlety and his actors’ facial expressions, but also by choosing to flip the male cast of the original film, to examine this particular gender dynamic.
Michelle playing Isabelle is a reserved, stoic presence whose journey back home to America not only makes her feel out of place but also answers, with again subtle cues, her way of dealing with others, with a restraint that is her primary behavioural pattern. This homecoming also reveals the depths of her attachment to Jai( Vir Pachisia), the boy she has raised as her own in the orphanage and with whom she shares a spiritual maternal bond that is beyond the miles dividing them. It’s a heartwarming aspect of the screenplay when their intercontinental phone calls show us that dynamic.
Then there’s Abby Quinn, playing Julianne’s daughter, who beautifully reveals the complexity of a young woman taking the plunge into marriage and discovering her birth mother at this new juncture. The scripting doesn’t shy away from the complexity and simultaneously the beauty of her being raised by Julianne, who she very well knows didn’t give birth to her.
AFTER THE WEDDING wrestles with these complexities with an unhurried grace and every relationship has threads that could untangle the way things have been for years. The ending, where Isabelle is caught between the desire to straddle her two homes and wants Jai to come with her to New York owing to her changed priorities, is heartbreaking. It’s a bit reminiscent of Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon’s classic STEPMOM to me though both films are far removed in terms of treatment and storytelling.
That ambiguity regarding her future is borne from her past and the present she saw unraveling while in New York. Hence, owing to these merits and its overall structure, it ends up becoming an effective drama and has stayed with me.
THE ETERNAL TRIUMPH OF E.T. (EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, 1982)
Almost 40 years after it became a cinematic family staple for the ages, E.T. continues to hit home for us.
I watched it for perhaps the fourth time in my life few days ago and boy, was I completely immersed in its centrality of alienation finding such a sweet, heartwarming parallel in E.T.’s own quest to return home, to a familiar place of reckoning and finding that on earthly realm with Elliot and his family.
Filled to the brim as it is with iconic moments celebrating an eternal quality of childhood friendships forged for life, in the most unique example, its final half is possibly the most emotionally wrenching down to the final goodbye.
Be it HENRY THOMAS, DEE WALLACE, the always dependable DREW BARRYMORE and ROBERT MACNAUGHTON, the cast members are cued to its sense of emotions and wonder. E.T. is a discovery of joy and must be watched by all.