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Mary Queen of Scots – Movie Review

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Mary Queen of Scots – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

The royal court can make for riveting cinema, as recently proven by The Favourite, especially when dealing with the conflicting ideals of those with high positions. Mary Queen of Scots has a fascinating historical story with which to build from and Beau Willimon, a writer known for highly political work, being hired to pen the screenplay suggests the possibility of showing the divisiveness between these two cousins. However, the film is surprisingly concerned a lot more with Mary Stuart’s love life and Queen Elizabeth ends up off-screen for the large majority of the runtime. There is certainly a lot of scope to this production and Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie provide strong performances, but Mary Queen of Scots otherwise feels rather stale.

The sentences that open the film suggest it will tackle the religious divide, what with Queen Elizabeth being Protestant to Mary’s Catholic upbringing. The movie will occasionally cut to scenes of Presbyterian minister John Knox delivering heated sermons, but for the most part, the religions of the day aren’t touched on nearly as much as one would expect. Mary Queen of Scots seems a lot more intent on showing Mary’s love life as she tries to plot what to do with Elizabeth. There’s a considerable amount of time spent on this,enough that there are long stretches where Elizabeth doesn’t appear. There is also a noble attempt to address the difficulty of maintaining a homosexual relationship in that time period, but it’s not a major plot point.

Eventually, one begins to wonder what Elizabeth is up to. It’s hardly Ronan’s fault as she delivers a great performance as a queen trying desperately hard to rule and showing she has the responsibility to command. Elizabeth just ends up with the more engaging subplot as she deals with small pox and a far away Scottish cousin breathing down her neck. Robbie brings a fearlessness to the role, while also displaying Elizabeth’s uncertainty of what will happen to her reign. One almost sympathises with her as she goes head-to-head with the men trying to tell her the best course of action. The makeup team also deserves commending for their role in transforming Robbie into The Virgin Queen.

Interestingly, the best scene in Mary Queen of Scots is when the two cousins eventually meet. While this never actually happened at any point in history, it’s great to see Ronan and Robbie act off each other and director Josie Rourke makes the decision to frame the scene with white sheets separating them. The scale of production has to be mentioned as director of photography John Mathieson takes full advantage of the wide open spaces of the Scottish vistas. The costume and production design is also lavishly done, as to be expected, although Harry Potter fans might notice the same locations used for Hogwarts. It’s a little distracting for anyone familiar with those interiors.

Mary Queen of Scots has a great deal of history to draw from, but it ends up being about the less interesting elements of Mary Stuart’s attempt to take the crown. The whole production feels a tad dry and like a history lesson. It’s a credit to how great Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie are that they keep proceedings somewhat engaging. It’s evident the filmmakers were more interested in Mary’s story, which does a disservice to Queen Elizabeth’s story and the political and religious events of the period. Despite Beau Willimon’s involvement, there’s not enough of the political backdoor dealings like one would hope for.

Stefan Ellison THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison