Saoirse Ronan features on Harper’s Bazaar ‘Spirit of Great Britain’ cover

Magazine showing striking portrait of Irish actor sparks backlash

It wouldn't be awards season without the nation getting into a kerfuffle about misidentification of Saoirse Ronan as British. The good people at Harper's Bazaar provide us with our first orgy of righteous anger.

The upcoming February edition, which includes an interview with Ronan celebrating her lead role in Mary Queen of Scots, plasters the words "The Spirit of Great Britain" beneath a striking image of the Irish actor. Within minutes of the image landing, social media was alive with antagonism.

The issue is not yet on the shelves (though the interview with Ronan is online) and emails to Harper’s editorial team have, at time of writing, gone unanswered. Some little ambiguity thus remains. The line appears to be referencing a separate piece on our neighbours’ brave attempt to stay afloat as Brexit buffets the forecastle. “Courageous, creative & open to the world… together we are strong,” the subheading argues.

Ronan is not mentioned in that article. Elsewhere,  the cover clarifies that we can read about “Saoirse Ronan on being Mary Queen of Scots.”


For all that, the prominence of the "Spirit of Britain" line – emblazoned boldly across Ronan's s Celtic breast – argues for it tying the whole cover together.

Rachel Collins, editor of The Irish Times Magazine, feels there is a case to be answered. "The Spirit of Great Britain headline does appear to refer to another story," she says. "But given that it dominates the cover, with Saoirse's headline in a secondary position and font size, I can see why people would assume it refers to her. In planning a cover you need to look at all the ways it could be interpreted – or misinterpreted – by readers, especially these days with social media commentary. I'd be wary of publishing an ambiguous cover like that, as backlash is inevitable. But perhaps the publishers felt the publicity was worth the kerfuffle."

Guy Lodge, who writes about film for Variety and other publications, commented: "It's standard editorial practice that the cover image and main cover line are at least thematically linked. The colour scheme and styling of the shoot play into it. This is not an accident."

(Lest any ire be directed at Ronan or her “people”, we should clarify that it would be most unusual for an interviewee to have any approval on copy or on headlines.)

The argument could be made that the line refers to Mary Queen of Scots, but, given that she was never queen of Great Britain, that would risk angering the Scots rather than the Irish. The Kingdom of Great Britain did not formally come into existence until 120 years after Mary Stuart’s death.

Speaking to this writer last year, Ronan expressed herself amused and touched by the continuing controversies concerning her misidentification. “Well, I’m not [British],” she said. “So I always correct them. I am proud of where I come from. I am proud of the work we’ve done. We can now stand in our own right as film-makers and actors. But, yeah, I do truly love it when people get so protective. That makes me smile.”

In less controversial awards news, two Irish actors, Jessie Buckley from Kerry and Barry Keoghan from Dublin, have been named among the five candidates for the EE Rising Star Award at next month's Baftas. The result will be decided by a public vote.