Film Reviews / Indie Film

Ma’am review: Dir. Joy Wilkinson [Short Film]

Queen Victoria as you’ve never seen her before! Writer Joy Wilkinson‘s directorial debut (funded by the Bumble App’s Female Film Force initiative) veers away from the norm when it comes to its depiction of the famous monarch, but the end result proves to be a raw and powerful short that is equal parts bold and enlightening.

It’s 1857, and Queen Victoria (Jessica Regan) has just given birth to her ninth child, Princess Beatrice. Bedridden and suffering from post-natal depression, Victoria’s pain and torment are laid bare, as she attempt to pull herself back from the brink and steel herself for a dreaded royal photoshoot with her husband and newborn child.

Ma’am instantly distinguishes itself in the way it strips away the decadent, grandiose trappings that other royal dramas revel in. The palaces, ballrooms and shiny things usually on display in such productions are nowhere to be seen, swapped out for a more intimate yet claustrophobic setting which immediately brings the character’s emotional turmoil to the fore.

Wilkinson’s screenplay doubles down on this break with convention further, epitomised best by the characterisation of Victoria herself. Gone is the stiff-upper lipped powerhouse one would instantly recognise, replaced here by a permanently exhausted and anguished figure prone to mood swings most certainly unbecoming of her title. Ma’am intimately and unashamedly details Victoria’s battles with her own mental health, her sexual frustration and her post-natal depression, and the ensuing drama is fascinating to witness.

Jessica Regan‘s portrayal is extremely liberating, casting the Queen as a woman at-odds with herself, emotionally spent by years of service to both country and family, and ultimately at her most mentally vulnerable. It takes some doing to portray a well known historical figure in such a way without slipping into caricature, but Regan does a sterling job of keeping Victoria wholly recognisable amid the more unrestrained and unorthodox characteristics on display here.

Together, this striking performance and unflinching script detail far more about the character of Victoria than other royal epics have even dared. This refreshing take brings the monarch down to earth with a thud, and Wilkinson’s assured and confident direction ekes out every uncomfortable, wincing moment with great aplomb. Rapid editing and a pumping, bombastic soundtrack tear away from the established costume drama palette, whilst moments of superb black humour pervade throughout every interaction. In stark contrast, a surreal, nightmarish moment towards the end delivers a moment of pure gut-wrenching horror, which, despite its simplicity, expertly sums up the film in one assured visual flourish.

An impressive debut and an expert character piece that’s impossible to forget, Ma’am is an intimate and riveting insight into one of British History’s most famous figures, bought to life by a superb lead performance and a filmmaker possessing both a clear vision and discernible skill. You’ve never seen Queen Victoria like this before, but trust us when we say, you’ll want to see Ma’am over and over again!

Ma’am screens online as part of the Shortest Nights Festival on 27th September and at the Norwich Film Festival this November.

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