Long live the Queen

Camille Rutherford on her starring role as Mary, Queen of Scots.

by Jennie Kermode

In the royal bedchamber.
In the royal bedchamber.

454 years ago, a recently widowed teenage queen who had spent most of her life in France arrived on Scottish shores to begin her active, tragic reign. This year, Thomas Imbach’s biopic of Mary, Queen Of Scots premières at the Glasgow Film Festival. We asked its star, Camille Rutherford, what it was like to play such a famous woman.

“Everything about it was amazing,” she says. “The fact of actually getting the part, to begin with, and it was incredible to be 19 and be this queen who we learned about in history class. It was an incredible part. She was a very unusual person and I think of her as like a feminist.” It was particularly challenging to take on the role, she explains, because it meant acting in English for the first time. Director Imbach had initially considered Scottish actresses for the role but couldn’t find one he thought was right. “My father is English but I was born and raised in France,” says Camille, who is still uncertain of her English but seems quite capable of making herself understood. She was one of four French actresses screen tested for the part and, when she won it, the original plan was that she would be taught to speak in a Scottish accent. She demonstrates this with cartoonish enthusiasm. Though there have certainly been worse ones in Scottish-set films over the years, it is immediately apparent that it wouldn’t have worked. Happily, further research showed that the real Mary retained a French accent throughout her reign anyway.

"I think of her as like a feminist.”

Still, the role was difficult. “I was very nervous. I’m a nervous person,” she says, revealing that she had a strong sense of responsibility about portraying Mary properly. Taking her through three different relationships was challenging and she was also wary of clichés, wanting to show her as a sensitive person. “I’m sure she was courageous and everything but I didn’t want to make her too authoritarian. I just wanted to show her as a simple person, as a solitary person in her mind. Just like me. I didn’t want to use the clichés of a big historical blockbuster, I wanted to show her as a romantic person focused on relationships and religion. I wanted to show her struggle.”

Also important, though they never meet, was Mary's relationship with her cousin Queen Elizabeth, which Camille describes as "insane." It is illustrated in the film using puppets. "For me, Mary's life was a disaster. It was just horrible," Camille says. I would never be able to have such a life. So I understand why artists want to write about her."

"I wanted to show her struggle.”

Sharp-eyed film fans may have noticed Camille in another high profile film recently – she has a small role in Blue Is The Warmest Colour. “It was only three days of shooting,” she explains, but she’s still thrilled by its success and she really enjoyed working with Abdellatif Kechiche. Although she’s not allowed to talk about her next project – a French feature film – it’s clear that her career is going in the right direction.

“It’s still absurd to me as a 21 year old French girl making this film about Mary, Queen of Scots so long ago in Scotland, and it’s filmed in Switzerland,” she says, and tells me she’s very happy that it’s showing at the Glasgow Film Festival. “I love Scotland... and she’s so important there, such a big part of their history. I hope they like it. I’m really looking forward to reviews.”

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