Nicola Sturgeon an ‘incredible leader’ claims Mary Queen of Scots star

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Mary Queen of Scots star Saoirse Ronan hailed Nicola Sturgeon as an “absolutely incredible” leader as she insisted the doomed monarch she plays on screen had been “misrepresented” for centuries.

Ronan, who was joined by several stars of the film at an Edinburgh Castle reception on Monday evening hosted by the First Minister before the picture’s Scottish premiere, said Ms Sturgeon came across as “personable, warm and passionate”.

Director Josie Rourke, Nicola Sturgeon and Mary Queen of Scots actress Saoirse Ronan. Picture: Jane Barlow

Director Josie Rourke, Nicola Sturgeon and Mary Queen of Scots actress Saoirse Ronan. Picture: Jane Barlow

The Irish-American actress, who later danced with the First Minister as they joined a pipe and drums band playing at the reception, said it was “bizarre” that female political leaders were still subject to “ridicule” hundreds of years after Mary Queen of Scots’ name was blackened.

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Speaking ahead of the premiere, Ms Sturgeon admitted the story of Mary Queen of Scots’ execution was better known than her life in Scotland.

Ronan said she hoped the depiction of the monarch in the film, which focuses on her rivalry with her cousin Queen Elizabeth I, would finally put right misconceptions about the life of Mary.

Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart in a scene from Mary Queen of Scots. Picture: Liam Daniel/Focus Features

Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart in a scene from Mary Queen of Scots. Picture: Liam Daniel/Focus Features

The 24-year-old actress is the same age as Mary Queen of Scots was when she was forced off the Scottish throne. Ronan said: “I’d heard of Mary when I was first approached about the film, but it was pretty much the same story of the tragedy of what ultimately happened to her.

“But when I started to research her life I realised very quickly that there was this incredible period when she was really kind of killing it as a queen, was an impressive ruler and had dealt with adversity so well. I became more and more fascinated by her.

“She has been totally misrepresented by the history books. They ended up getting written by [Elizabeth’s] right-hand man, William Cecil, who had it in for her [Mary] from the beginning and set out to blacken her name especially after she had died, as well as other men who were against her and never saw her in a positive light. It’s been nice to put this film out and set the world to rights.

“I’d like to think it has got easier for female politicians today. They are still ridiculed for things other than their policies, which is just bizarre. That still exists.

“I think Nicky Sturgeon is absolutely incredible. From what I’ve heard from friends up here, what she’s done for the country is unbelievable. It’s such a progressive country with its health service and education system. She is so personable, warm and passionate. She’s amazing.”

Speaking at the castle, Ms Sturgeon said: “Most people in Scotland probably know the story of how she died more than how she lived.

“Perhaps what this film will do is bring much greater knowledge and awareness of the story of her life, the marriages, the intrigue and the drama that unfolded here in Scotland.”

Asked if it had become easier for female political leaders since the 16th century, Ms Sturgeon said: “I hope that we don’t get our heads chopped off, literally. Perhaps metaphorically that might still be the case. I don’t think leadership for anybody, male or female, should ever be easy.

“We see more women in positions of leadership right now and I hope it’s something we see continue to grow. Women face a lot of barriers, not just in politics, that men don’t face.”

The film’s director has meanwhile revealed Mary Queen of Scots would have been shot entirely in Scotland had the country had its own film studio. Josie Rourke said the entire 53-day shoot would have deployed more locations around the country if a permanent facility had been available to film scenes.

Ms Rourke said the production team had spent “ages” trying to find a suitable base for the film where large-scale sets could be built, only to end up filming pivotal scenes on location in Derbyshire and Surrey.

Just three-and-a-half weeks worth of filming was done in Scotland, at Blackness Castle in West Lothian, Seacliff beach in East Lothian, and Glen Coe and Glen Feshie in the West Highlands.