Focus Features’ Mister Rogers Docu And ‘Mary Queen Of Scots’ Show Impact On History – The Contenders London

Mary Queen Of Scots
Focus Features

Two very different Focus Features titles, Morgan Neville’s Mister Rogers doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and the British period piece Mary Queen of Scots have their own touch when it comes to history.

Neville was drawn to Fred Rogers’ oddity, but there was something greater in the PBS children’s talk show host: “He’s a voice you don’t hear in our culture today,” said the director, “Where are the grown-ups in our culture? Where are the leaders? The movie is about making moral decisions, about what neighborhood we want to live in.”

Morgan Neville Rex/Shutterstock

Rogers took children seriously, and knew they were smarter than the general public wanted to let on. There was an age-old notion during the ’50s and ’60s to always protect kids, to protect them from tragedy.

When Bobby Kennedy’s funeral was going to air after his assassination in the summer of 1968, Rogers knew children would be watching it on a Saturday. He knew he had to get on the air beforehand and brace them. “He helped them process things so they wouldn’t build up a fear,” explains Neville.

A trained minister and in child development, Rogers spoke to the better side of people, even when they had their slanted agendas, and at times made progress. President Richard Nixon was on the brink of reversing LBJ’s public television funding, poised to cut $20M. Rogers squared off with Senator John Pastore who had essentially already made up his mind at the time to cut funds. Rogers ultimately melted the hardened Senator and rescued the public TV monies.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was one of Focus Features’ highest grossing pics of the year, counting over $22M at the domestic box office.

Similar to how Rogers spoke truth to power, Josie Rourke’s movie Mary Queen of Scots is built on the premise of two powers speaking truth to each other, Queen Elizabeth I and her cousin Mary Stuart, circa 1500s.

Dr. John Guy, whose historical book “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart” the pic is based upon, says that in history Mary and Elizabeth never met.  In 1562 they came close to meeting, but it never happened.  Though Guy agrees with other historians’ point of views that the women never met, in 2010 a letter was discovered from Elizabeth I written to Mary 18 months before Mary’s execution. In it, Elizabeth regrets everything that went wrong between them and proposes a meeting to discuss it, but the meeting never happened and Mary’s execution still came to be.

The conceit of the movie is that the two met in real life, and that’s a dramatic device that had to take place in the movie in order to understand what was going on between them.

The pic’s screenwriter Beau Willimon was taken by Guy’s approach showing the duo’s adversarial nature. “Typically Elizabeth is this hardened and cold person who is fully formed and Mary is often portrayed as impulsive and reckless. What John posits, and exceeds to prove, is that Mary was the politically savvy one and her choices were well thought out and not purely driven by emotions. Elizabeth was much more insecure in her reign and Mary about leadership and strength,” said the Neflix House of Cards creator.

Mary Queen of Scots is the closing night film at AFI Fest in Hollywood and opens on Dec. 7 in U.S./Canada.

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