Karen Gillan to Play Queen Mary Tudor In Historical Comedy 'Fools'

Taissa Farmiga and Karen Gillan in one of the few period dramas Gillan has starred in, 'In The Valley of Violence'

Taissa Farmiga and Karen Gillan in one of the few period dramas Gillan has starred in, 'In The Valley of Violence'

Ursula Coyote/©Universal Pictures

Queen Mary Tudor often gets a bad rap. Her reign, which spanned just five years, is sandwiched between that of her infamous, unstable father, who was famous for killing his wives, and her glorious sister, who would go on to be regarded as one of the greatest monarchs in English history. It's a lot to live up to, in either direction. Instead, poor Mary is mainly forgotten, and when she's remembered, it's in much the way her mother, Queen Catherine of Aragon, was, as a frumpy religious zealot who couldn't have a child. And whose strident Catholic faith led to the deaths of thousands of Protestants, though the sobriquet "Bloody Mary" has always been something of a misnomer, given who her father was and how high the body count of his reign ran. 

But the upcoming historical film Fools is finally set to look at a lesser-known and more lighthearted bit of Mary's life story: Her friendship with her female fool. 

Set in the 16th century in the aftermath of King Henry VIII's death, the film follows the story of England's first queen, Mary I, as she takes the throne in a divided country. While an ambitious cardinal plots to secure control, he overlooks a humble court jester, Jane Foole. The pious and seemingly humorless queen finds Jane's slapstick routines uproariously funny, and the two strike up a genuine friendship. Jane's humor lightens Mary's mood during dark times, often helping her to resist her darker urges and fend off the manipulation of others. But can Jane's comedy save a nation from civil war?

Since the actual Cardinal Reginald Pole was a staunch Catholic and a longtime ally of both Mary and her mother’s — the new queen made him Archbishop of Canterbury after his return from exile in 1556your guess is as good as mine as to who this ambitious “Cardinal Pole” is meant to represent, but, hey, I guess we’ll see.

Former Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan is set to star as the Tudor queen, alongside Patsy Ferran (Jamestown) as Jane the Foole. (In a charming bit of timing, Ferran recently played Princess Mary in the Catherine Parr-focused period film Firebrand.) Other notable cast members include Brenda Blethyn (Vera) and Jim Broadbent (Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?

Fools is written and directed by BAFTA and Emmy winner Guy Jenkin (Outnumbered), and filming is slated to begin later this year. Ryan Bennett of Paper Epic Productions will produce. Altitude Film Sales will handle international sales, starting at the European Film Market.

“I am thrilled to be working with such a supremely talented core group of actors on Fool,” Jenkin said in a statement. “Together, we will tell the untold story of the strange friendship between England’s first Queen and her female jester. Fools will turn the conventions of a historical film inside-out and promises to be subversive, striking, and very funny.” Bennett added, “With Fools, Guy has discovered a fascinating, hidden piece of history. This is a story where comedy actually saves lives. It’s a defense of moderation and a celebration of the power of laughter.”

Fools doesn’t have a release date yet, but it’s unlikely to hit theaters before 2025. 

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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