The film Mary Queen Of Scots has just been released in UK cinemas. This period drama – pun intended – is about the rivalry between Elizabeth I (played by Margot Robbie) and her relative Mary (played by Saoirse Ronan) and is based on the biography Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy. But what makes this film talk of the town even more than the story or the actresses, is the menstrual blood scene.
Rourke: ‘It was probably the most straightforward scene that we shot’
Shortly after her marriage to Henry Darnley, Mary washes herself and that’s when the menstrual blood is shown; both as a spot on her nightgown and in a handmaiden’s water basin after her ladies-in-waiting have cleaned her inner thighs. Director Josie Rourke received lots of questions from American journalists (the film was already released in the USA on 7 December 2018) about this scene, especially about how difficult it was to shoot. Her answer to Press Association: ‘It was probably the most straightforward scene that we shot because there were six women there and we all know what happens and we all know what to do.’
The importance of showing menstruation on screen
By including menstrual blood, Rourke said she wanted to normalise the idea of it. ‘We just need to see that, because it happens to pretty much half of us at some point in our lives and that we’ve not shown it before is probably just a bit disappointing more than anything else.’ Also Ronan, who plays Mary, believes it’s important to show periods on screen. In a conversation with Vogue contributing editor Sinéad Burke, she said: ‘I can’t think of many other films that have shown that actually. But when I think of when I was younger, nobody around me would say the words ‘tampon’ or ‘period’, or anything like that. It’s still a new thing – to actually show something very natural and very regular on screen.’
Bloody Mary – but not because of her periods
It wasn’t just to get rid of menstrual shame that Rourke has chosen to include the scene; the menstrual cycle – needed to produce an heir – is an important part of many royal stories. This was the case with Queen Mary from Scotland (Mary Stuart, 1542-1587) and also with her father’s niece Queen Mary from England (1516-1558), who was suffering from menstrual disorders. At that time the entire court was wondering whether she’d be able to produce an heir to the throne. By the way: this Queen Mary – Mary Tudor – is also known as ‘Bloody Mary’, but this doesn’t have anything to do with her menstruation – the gruesome nickname comes from her persecution of Protestants, whom she burned at the stakes.
No bedroom secrets in Tudor times
The period drama doesn’t end here. Also the successor and younger half-sister Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, had troubles with her menstruation. She suffered from amenorrhea, as Christopher Hibbert describes in his book The Virgin Queen.The book Elizabeth’s Bedfellows, An Intimate History of the Queen’s Court by Anna Whitelock, describes how Elizabeth used ‘vallopes of fine holland cloth’ (which is a type of linen) and satin girdles with hooks to adjust them for when she was menstruating. It seems like there weren’t many bedroom secrets in ancient times: the Ladies of the Bedchamber knew everything about a queen’s private life. And so did the entire court.
Watch the trailer of Mary Queen Of Scots here.