Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, James McArdle, Guy Pearce
Director Josie Rourke
Genre: Period Drama
Running Time: 2 Hours
Rated: MA 15 plus
Opens January 17th
For all her privileges, Mary, Queen of Scots, led a short-term existence. Shipped at age 5 to France, where she’d spend her formative years, the Catholic royal served for less than two years as her adoptive country’s queen until misfortune left her a teenage widow. At age 21, she returned to her homeland of Scotland with a claim to the English crown but little means of seizing it. For 25 years, Mary ruled as the queen of Scotland, wielding power and authority as a rare female sovereign, the only woman who’d understand her unique position being her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. It’s a Fascinating story of the dueling queens both trying to rule over a world of men. Director Josie Rourke’s “Mary Queen of Scots” is an epic look at the intimate frustrations of two extremely powerful young women who spend most of their energy navigating between who they are and what they represent.
While the movie perfectly embodies the struggles of its heroines, it also shares their fatal inability to reconcile personal strife with political strategy.
The year is 1561, and Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan, both as good as you’d expect is returning to her native land after being raised Catholic in France and being widowed by King Francis II at the age of 17.Technically a queen since she was six days old, the iron-willed Mary has every intention of returning to her place on the throne. Of course, that doesn’t sit well with the teenager’s half-brother, the Earl of Moray (James McArdle), who’s been ruling in her absence and assumes that being a man gives him the right to continue doing so. Also there is a protestant troublemaker by the name of John Knox (David Tennant), playing a religious leader who spreads vicious lies about Mary in order to convince his eager flock that a woman’s reign is against the will of God.
Even worse for Mary, her greatest ally is also her most powerful rival: Her 25-year-old cousin, England’s Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). The two monarchs have never met, but they share letters, ambitions, and a unique psychic understanding of what it’s like for a woman to preside over a patriarchy that would sooner choose war over compromise. Left to their own devices, Mary and Elizabeth might have peacefully settled the tensions between themselves and their countries; Mary even proposes the elegant solution that she would only inherit the throne if Elizabeth fails to produce an heir. Elizabeth is amenable, but her chief advisor (Guy Pearce) is not. Sabotage abounds on both sides. Battles are waged — heads are lost.
Shying away from real history, the screenplay devises a new narrative for the strained relationship between the two queens more in line with today’s “Me Too” movement.
It presumes that the Queens not only cared for but also respected each other, but that their conflict, and ultimately Mary’s demise, was constructed by the men around them who feared women being given too much power.
One of the best scenes in “Mary Queen of Scots” is the only one in which Mary and Elizabeth are in the same room, the rival rulers meet on neutral ground for a tense heart-to-heart, this is great viewing. These two great roles for two of the best actresses around both of whom were Oscar-nominees last year. Saoirse Ronan for “Lady Bird” and Margot Robbie for “I Tonya” offer movie goers a tour de force.
Score: 8 out of 10