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‘Mary Queen of Scots’ (review)

Produced by Tim Bevan,
Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward

Screenplay by Beau Willimon
Based on Queen of Scots by John Guy
Directed by Josie Rourke
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie,
Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn,
David Tennant, Guy Pearce

 

Mary Queen of Scots is a visually sumptuous, but biased retelling of the power struggle between two powerful Queens vying for supremacy in lands fractured by religious upheaval of the Protestant Reformation.

The film based on the book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, casts Mary Stuart as the underdog. Traditionally, Mary is presented as devious person, plotting to usurp the illustrious Elizabeth I.

In Mary Queen of Scots, Mary is portrayed as young, intelligent woman who believes she will be the Queen to unite both England and Scotland under one throne. As a cousin of the childless Elizabeth, Mary does all that she can to strength her claim as heir to England’s crown after Elizabeth I. Elizabeth in her turn defies convention and refuses to marry or name an heir.

Sairose Ronan is mesmerizing as the fiery Mary Stuart. Margot Robbie’s steel-willed Elizabeth is the perfect foil for her Scottish Queen. Both women convey the strength needed to stand against council filled with powerful men. The cast of actors portraying both Queen’s Courts reads like a who’s-who of the best of BBC productions but with a few exceptions are hardly discernible from one another. It is as if the filmmakers are making a statement that all men in power are the same.

For such a tumultuous time in English and Scottish history, the film only touches on the violence of the times. It concentrates on the relationships between the two Queens and their courts. The battle takes place in the councils and at court.

Director Josie Rourke uses the story of the tragic Queens as a platform to draw parallels with modern times and the double standard held to women in power. Men can rule, change policy, have mistresses, and father as many children as they want. Women are supposed to marry and produce heirs. If a women attempts to rule in her own right, then the men around her try to control her or tear her down. Each Queen chooses a different path to deal with men that would control them. Elizabeth denies her femininity and chooses to play the court games as a man.

Mary chooses to build her power through marriage and producing an heir of her own. Rourke shows the cost of each path.

Unfortunately, the film falls short in fleshing out the times that Elizabeth and Mary lived in. For me, as a long time anglophile, I was familiar with history and why the struggle between a Protestant Queen and Catholic Queen was a reason for war.

However, I attended the film with a friend who did not have the same background, and they found the political climate that drives the story murky and oftentimes non existent. The film sometimes comes off more as a popularity contest than a life and death struggle.

While historical drama has come into popularity with the success of the Tudors , Mary Queen of Scots neither has the overt sexiness and flash of the Tudors, nor the blockbuster action of Braveheart. Although the film is strong in its historical accuracy, it mostly comes across as the chick-flick equivalent of a BBC historical production.

 

 

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