"Once a Queen"
Written and Directed by Mike Leigh
Marion Cotillard as Catherine of Aragon
Imelda Staunton as Lady Sophia Bolton
Tagline: "The monarch lost her crown, the woman lost more…"
Synopsis: 1534, England. King Henry VIII has finally taken lady-in-waiting Anne Boleyn as his second wife and has officially separated his nation from the Roman Catholic church (which previously refused to grant him a divorce or annulment from his first wife: the charming but infertile spaniard Catherine of Aragon).
Now, as Henry VIII and his new bride begin a new life together; what will become of the self-appointed “rightful” Queen of England?
Alone in a kingdom that no longer acknowledged her existence and exiled by the man she loves to a castle at the far north, Catherine felt in deep depression and only her faith in God kept her going day after day, year after year…
When Catherine was diagnosed with a mortal disease, she found comfort in her friendship with Sophia, the castle’s keeper. Sophia was a strong-minded, yet tender woman and despite of everything said by Henry; so was Catherine. Unfortunately, she wasn’t strong enough to forgive Anne Boleyn and to not wish for some kind of payback.
When her nephew, the Spanish Emperor Charles V, promised Catherine he would punish Henry VIII for her confinement, she begged him not to hurt Henry or the kingdom she still loved. The day Catherine finally died of the very rare heart cancer, Anne Boleyn had an abortion and to Henry’s dismay; the people of England lamented the death of the kind woman that once was their queen…
What the Press would say:
This awards season, Oscar-nominated writer/director Mike Leigh presents an intimate portrait of Catherine of Aragon; still remembered as one of the most beloved and popular foreign-born English monarchs in history. Leigh wisely chooses to make his story entirely about Catherine’s personal struggles and to avoid the presence of the very well-known Anne Boleyn at all. Stylishly, Leigh makes sure her name is never even heard (only her first name is read occasionally on a couple of letters) and the director is also smart enough to make king Henry VIII a dim figure when the script demands him to be on screen.
As a result of these creative choices, France’s Marion Cotillard (in a makeup-free performance) is given most of the film’s screen-time and just like she did in La Vie en Rose; she outstandingly brings her character to life and injects tons of life and charisma into Leigh’s heavily dramatic biopic. Although Catherine of Aragon, compared to the electrifying Edith Piaf, was logically a much more serious figure; Cotillard is still able to make her a very captivating, complex personality. Almost in the end, when we discover the truth about Catherine and her real popularity with the English people; we realize Cotillard’s thoughtful performance truly made us like the late queen and fully relate to her emotions.
After being Oscar-worthy in Leigh's Vera Drake and a joy to watch in the latest Harry Potter film, Imelda Staunton delivers a very subtle, moving performance as Catherine of Aragon’s trustful companion. Staunton’s nuanced portrayal is more about the deep emotions she communicates with her eyes and body language, than what she really has to say. Staunton knows how to lift the character from the page and she ends up stealing the show every time she’s on screen.
In the end, Leigh’s poetic biopic succesfully reveals who this great human being was, what life was for her after Henry VIII and mostly; how her kindness and determination turned the woman who was once a queen, into an icon.
Expect this uplifting story to score the following Oscar nominations:
Best Original Screenplay
Best Director (Leigh)
Best Actress (Cotillard)
Best Supporting Actress (Staunton)