Sunday, February 7, 2016

Emma Watson in The Queen of the Tearling: Film Expectations

I recently picked up a copy of The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (2014). Emma Watson has been lined up as the lead and executive producer for a film adaptation since before the story's publication, so I was interested to see what captured her attention.

The story follows a young girl named Kelsea who has been raised by foster parents in isolation until her 19th birthday when she is picked up by Mace and the Queen's Guard to take her rightful place on the throne of Tearling. Unbeknownst to her, a neighboring monarch has demanded tribute from her kingdom for years in the form of 250 citizens chosen by lottery to be shipped away as slaves once a month. Kelsea tries to be a better ruler than her mother was, while learning a bit of magic and dodging assassination attempts.

I liked how natural the main character felt, how complete the world appeared, and the themes of loyalty and community that surfaced. I thought Kelsea, the young, newly crowned queen, was a more complex character than any of the "strong" female leads we've seen in similar franchises, especially Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games--The Queen of the Tearling has been compared to both. On a side note: the book has also been compared to Pulp Fiction...DailyMail claims, "there’s a feminist perspective, but also a lot of bloody goings-on."

There are several changes I anticipate the films making to the story. These are typical movie changes and none of them are ground-breaking revelations, but for people, like myself, who will read the books before the films, here are some things to which you must resign yourself.

1. Feminist "Perspective" (read "Agenda")

Because a woman as passionate about women's rights as Emma Watson is both a producer and a lead, many of the problems with modern portrayals of women will be absent. In their place will appear the tropes and arguments radical feminism is currently rubbing our faces in. Fiction is the ideal place for these arguments, as a fictional world where women are actually oppressed can be presented: a beautiful straw-man with which to attack and guilt men. The Queen of the Tearling does contain elements such as a sex trade, prostitution, abusive husbands, invasive government control of contraceptives, and a fight against stereotyping women as empty-headed and useless leaders. These are not prevalent enough, I would argue, to say that the book contains a feminist theme, however, I anticipate them being blown up in the films to push an agenda. I do not wish to argue that sex trade or abuse are not problems in the real world, but they are not exclusively women's problems, nor are they all women's problems.

One element you can count on being unaltered in the film is the nationalistic political climate. This is condoned in fiction, especially film, because it makes the American monomyth work, which, as we all know, audiences expect. However, given the current feminist stance against nationalism and towards globalism, I wonder if the writers will not try to work around it.

2. Character changes to make the story "more exciting" or move faster

Kelsea will probably already be competent at swordplay or Mace, Captain of the Queen's Guard, will teach her. This eliminates the need for two minor characters and has the potential to "empower" (read "masculinize") her character.

I expect younger actors all around, and more attractive despite the film makers' goal to uphold the plain queen of the book. Kelsea is 19 in the story, and everyone around her is at least 30 years old. I suspect her personal guard Pen to be more her age (adding a sexual tension the book lacks), as well as her dame of chamber Andalie. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Andalie is not the stoic mother of the book, but a young, cheerful peer for the queen. If Andalie remains distant, the best fleshed out female relationship of the story will be between Kelsea and the Red Queen: negative.

3. The disappearance of Father Tyler

Hollywood has no use for a true believer. The only positive representation of the Christian religion, I suspect, will disappear soon after crowning the queen, if he makes it that far into the film. His role in this first book of the series is small enough that cutting it would have little effect on the plot. If he is not cut, he will probably be an atheist in the garb of a priest, "enlightened" by his collection of secular books. Perhaps this is a minor thing, but positive representations of godliness are sadly decreasing in popular culture.

Conclusion

I am looking forward to the film a great deal. The Queen of the Tearling was captivating and I would like to see the world depicted on screen. I highly recommend the book, and I am glad that they chose Emma Watson for the role. Still, I do not expect that the films will be an unbiased adaptation.

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