FROM the start it was clear that the dynamic of the new Mary Queen of Scots film would have one focus. From the poster, featuring lead actresses Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, to the first trailers, featuring a fiery meeting between Mary and Elizabeth of England, it was evident that the clash between the Scots queen and the queen of England was going to be a major theme. Director Josie Rourke has said in interviews that the image of a face-to-face meeting between the two women was the whole pitch for the film. The only problem is that, in real life, Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth Tudor never met.

For a filmmaker and director, the meeting makes perfect sense. Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth are two of the most recognisable names from British history, both women with strong personalities, personal attraction and huge amounts of power. Having hired two great actresses to interpret the lead roles, the first thing a director would want to do is put them on screen together. Artistically, a film where the two leads never met would seem to have something missing.

And the new film is not the first to invent a meeting. The 1971 film Mary, Queen of Scots, starring Vanessa Redgrave as a tragic, romantic Mary and Glenda Jackson as a ferocious Elizabeth, showed two face-to-face encounters between the queens. The film was nominated for several awards, including for the two leads, who both received Golden Globe nominations for best motion picture actress. Other fictional adaptations of Mary’s story have also made up a meeting.

The National:

Vanessa Redgrave starred as Mary in the 1970s

Theatre offers slightly more leeway than film, and, on stage, two Scottish playwrights got around the problem in two very different ways. Liz Lochhead’s Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off has Mary and Elizabeth on stage together from the very beginning – but although the audience can watch them react to each other, they never actually have a direct conversation. Lochhead also makes a virtue of a small cast by having her lead actresses play double roles: the actress playing “Mary” can speak to Elizabeth – but in the guise of “Marian”, a servant.

READ MORE: The real Mary, Queen of Scots – in her own words

Another Scottish playwright’s version of Mary’s story takes a different approach by leaving Elizabeth out altogether. But despite only having one female lead, Gordon Daviot’s Queen of Scots, performed in London in the mid-1930s, assembled a particularly impressive cast. The playwright’s name might not be immediately recognisable, but this is because it was a pseudonym – the author is better known today as detective novelist Josephine Tey. She had originally hidden behind a male name, choosing Daviot after her favourite Highland holiday destination. Tey’s crime novels are regarded as some of the best of the Golden Age, and have influenced later crime and thriller writers from Stephen King to Val McDermid. During the 1930s, however, Invernessian Tey was still best known as dramatist Gordon Daviot, and Queen of Scots was a major West End production. There were magazines dedicated to the play, with photo spreads of the glamorous cast in their fabulous costumes: “Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies gives a sincere and moving performance in the title role,” wrote one reviewer, “she conveys to the audience with consummate skill that sense of impending tragedy which overshadowed the life of the ill-fated Queen”.

Ffrangcon-Davies was a big star, best known for her interpretation of Juliet, and she played Mary opposite Laurence Olivier as the Earl of Bothwell. Olivier, not an established name at that point, had stepped in to the role as a replacement at the last minute. The director was John Gielgud. Another notable cast member was James Mason, not yet embarked on his Hollywood film career, who played two small parts as the mad Earl of Arran and Bothwell’s servant Paris. Actress Margaret Webster, who played the queen’s attendant Mary Beaton, said that it was the best and most harmonious cast she ever worked with. The show was played with great energy to enthusiastic houses, but fell victim to a sweltering heatwave, which emptied theatres in the summer of 1934 – and to the over-enthusiasm of Olivier, who managed to break his ankle on stage as he leapt around.

READ MORE: New Mary Queen of Scots history tale puts children in the picture

Daviot’s approach had been to focus on what she interpreted as Mary’s love for the Earl of Bothwell, and to show episodes from Mary’s life in Scotland only, from her arrival from France in 1561 to her departure after the defeat at Langside in 1568. Her long captivity in England is only hinted at in the final scenes.

Of course, there are questions about this interpretation as well: plenty of historians would dispute the fact that Mary was in love with Bothwell, seeing her as coerced into marriage with a ruthless rapist. One of the enduring appeals of Mary’s story is that it is so human: her rule over Scotland was not a series of political decisions, but a series of personal choices that can be interpreted in so many different ways.

The National:

Strangely enough, despite dedicating a play to her, Daviot’s own ultimate personal interpretation of Mary was that she was “a silly woman” – the playwright preferred the rational Elizabeth of England to the romantic Queen of Scots. The play, however, had been written partly to please her leading lady, Ffrangcon-Davies, who had always wanted to interpret the role of Mary on stage. Daviot and Ffrangcon-Davies had been great friends ever since they had met during the production of Daviot’s first play, where Ffrangcon-Davies had also taken the starring role. The two women spent time researching the historical truth behind Mary’s story, visiting places linked with her life, and this was an interest that continued long after the play closed down – when Ffrangcon-Davies met Daviot in Edinburgh some years later they made a special trip to Leith to see where Mary had first arrived in Scotland. And Daviot’s version of Queen of Scots was revived, in shorter form during the Second World War, when it was part of a programme that John Gielgud toured with the Entertainments National Service Association, entertaining troops. A radio version was broadcast on the BBC in 1942.

One thing that both Lochhead and Daviot draw attention to is the historical fact that Mary was most comfortable speaking French, and then gradually relearned to speak Scots after she returned home – and in the 16th century Scots was noticeably different from English. Lochhead’s play was first performed at the Lyceum in Edinburgh in 1987, and in 2009 the National Theatre of Scotland took the play on a memorable tour of the Highlands and Islands, directed by Alison Peebles, who had played Elizabeth in the original version. From La Corbie, the narrator, at the start, to the Glaswegian nursery rhymes at the end, the actors use plenty of Scots words throughout. There is no record, however, of how Daviot’s cast coped with the Scottish accent. Her lead actress was from a Welsh background, but actors in the 1930s were not encouraged to retain regional accents.

Whatever people might think of the Scottish accents and realism of the most recent Hollywood outing, it must surely stand comparison with the vision of Olivier declaiming in his best Shakespearian tones as that violent Border Scotsman, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell.

Mary, Queen Of Scots is released on January 19

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