Mary Queen of Scots had a sharp nose, double chin and thin lips. By the standards of her time she was considered a great beauty, one of the most desirable women on the planet. By today’s standard of beauty she had a sharp nose, double chin and thin lips. Which is more correct? Which is true and which is accurate?

It’s accurate to describe her in the unflattering terms I used but is not true. Why not? Because to understand the effect she had on her world, at her time, we have to understand that the standards of beauty were different and by those standards she was beautiful. The question then becomes how to portray that in a movie, film, or book. In a book it becomes easy; you give an accurate portrayal but play up aspects that are still considered beautiful (pale skin, curly red hair, long legs) while downplaying the others. Simple. But would not work in a filmed context. If you cast Mary accurately and have all of the royals of her time fighting for her affection we, today, with our perception of beauty, would wonder what the fuss was about. And would come out believing that all of Mary’s suitors were ignoring her physical appearance and only concentrating on the fact that through marrying her they would get the Crown of Scotland and eventually the Crown of England. That perception would be untrue. Certainly that was a motivation but not the only motivation and her actual perceived beauty was undeniably part of the attraction. In order to portray that you would want to hire an actress that looks similar to Mary in terms of the hair, the skin and the long legs, but you would keep an eye on the standards of beauty today and ignore the rest of her features. Leaving you with a historically inaccurate portrayal of Mary but, quite possibly, a more historically true portrayal.

We look at the past with the eyes of the present and that makes it difficult to see them as they actually were in the time in which they lived. Almost every historical figure you have ever heard of would be considered a bastard of epic proportions if alive in the present time. Julius Caesar? Bastard. Alexander the Great? Bastard. Leonidas? Bastard. But is that true? It is certainly accurate but by the brutal standards of their time they were just considered successful and not depraved in any way. Basically, if every one in a society is doing something it’s hardly fair to call certain actions sins. By our perspective, absolutely sins and I believe our world is better for it. The question then becomes are we whitewashing history by not focusing on that brutality? Are we making those bastards look better than they deserve to look? Or, in doing that whitewashing, are we in fact showing those people in a more accurate light; the light that is reflected in the times in which they lived?

Another example; I was reading a book on Ireland of the 5th century and they had a custom that when meeting a stranger they would offer to temporarily take them into their family unit through a short ritual. Sounds pretty normal, right? How could anyone possibly mistake that for anything else? Except the ritual involved an Irishman exposing his breast and the stranger (who was invariably male) licking it. With our eyes this has an undeniable gay connotation but by the standards of the day it had no such connotation, it was just a friendly way to metaphorically bring a stranger temporarily into the family by pretending that they were accepting you as their mother. It makes a certain kind of sense and with that explanation I can get past the gay connotation and just accept it as ritual. However, I think you could explain it all you wanted in the context of a movie but as soon as the audience saw that ritual they couldn’t help but see it as proof that the Irish of that time were either gay, or extremely liberal in their views on gay people. This would probably be inaccurate. If you are a filmmaker you have a choice; shoot the accurate version and leave people with an inaccurate impression, or shoot an inaccurate version and leave people with an accurate impression.

Which is more important? What actually happened or what it actually meant?

I don’t have an answer; I just thought it was an interesting question.

(By the way, I’m not saying there’s something wrong with the ancient Irish ritual itself, just saying that the impression is inaccurate. If two men want to lick other’s nipples I say go for it, have fun. If two women want to lick each other’s nipples I say go for it, have fun. Send me pictures).