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Director credits Donmar Warehouse experience in preparing her for first film

The director has made a movie about Mary Queen Of Scots starring Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan.

Saoirse Ronan
Saoirse Ronan

The director of a new film about Mary Queen Of Scots has described how her long career in British theatre prepared her to make her first movie.

Josie Rourke, who is due to step down as artistic director of Donmar Warehouse after eight years in 2019, makes her feature debut with the historical epic starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie.

A new trailer for the film shows Mary, played by Ronan, and Queen Elizabeth I, played by Robbie, meeting for the first time, as well as Mary kneeling at the executioner’s block.

It also gives a glimpse of a heavily bearded David Tennant in his role as John Knox, describing the rule of women as a “scourge”.

Rourke told the Press Association: “Because you have so little to work with, most theatre directors have a forensic attention to detail, which is something I’ve always valued in film.

“I’ve also done a lot of new work and new writing so I’ve got a confidence with story and with working and talking to writers and I think those relationships with key creatives help you feel very fluent and confident and that was very helpful, and also a child-like enthusiasm to being able to work on scale!”

She added: “What I’ve always tried to do in my career as a theatre director is push through and do things that are new and to break through and into things specifically that are places that maybe women haven’t been, or haven’t been very much before.

“I feel like there is something in my nature. What you’re doing is sort of being proof of concept.”

Rourke follows in the footsteps of other theatre directors, such as Sam Mendes and Phyllida Lloyd, who have made a successful move to the big screen.

Phyllida Lloyd
Phyllida Lloyd (Ian West/PA)

She said: “I think actually there is a thing in our culture in this country where it’s quite a familiar path for British theatre directors to become filmmakers and there is a reason Working Title were down the Donmar Warehouse looking at my work and talent scouting.

“I think what is relatively unusual about it is that it’s been more biased towards men than it has women, but Phyllida Lloyd absolutely made that cross.

“Thea Sharrock is somebody I started out in the theatre with who is now such an established screen director, so it does happen.

“This is a gigantic film to be entrusted with as someone’s first go. I’ve got gratitude and hopeful anticipation that I’ve pulled it off in a way that audiences will enjoy.”

Rourke said she is confident the landscape will improve for female directors working in film, saying: “The theatre industry used to look like the film industry; that is what it looked like 15 years ago when I first started to train.

“Those optics are exactly what you would see in every room. I remember very early doors directing plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company and sitting in rooms as the only female director with half a dozen men and thinking ‘Will this ever change?’ and it did and it has.

“We have a distance to travel but once people start to take those steps of confidence towards the ability and the narratives of women… and it’s not just about women, it’s about representation across the board.

“Change does succeed, you just need to keep pushing and trying and it happened in British theatre within 10 years.”

Mary Queen Of Scots will be released in UK cinemas in January.

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