By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
During the 16th century, a power struggle mars the governments of Scotland and England. Though both countries are headed by queens, the male dominated governments do what they can to undermine their powers. The queens themselves challenge each other for power over England. These are the historical events which inspired this film and though the aesthetics are quite gorgeous, the movie suffers from a mostly safe and wonted approach to the material. Saoirse Ronan stars as the titular Queen Mary I of Scotland. Following the death of her husband, the French King Francis II, Mary decides to return home to her rightful place on the throne of Scotland. Many things have changed since she left, though. Scotland has become divided between Catholics and Protestants and members of both sides attempt take away the queen’s authority. In addition to these problems, Mary actually has a legitimate claim to the throne of England, as Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) has yet to offer the throne a proper heir. As Mary ambitiously seeks out the English crown, the forces aligning against her decide to take more aggressive action.
Based on the biography Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy, Mary, Queen of Scots offers audiences the typical period melodrama one would expect from this kind of film. Now I know there are actually fans of this style, but I was hoping for something more ingenious. Though the basic story itself is rather interesting, the writing of Beau Wilimon and the filmmaking of Josie Rourke are not. The movie does have some interesting twists and surprises, and from what I understand, the filmmakers takes some creative liberties with the history. However, these cannot save what is essentially a rote period drama.
The film does have an excellent cast, most of whom perform with much vigor and passion. Great talents including Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, Guy Pearce, Gemma Chan, Martin Compston, and Ismael Cruz Cordova offer some memorable turns. As the leads, Margot Robbie is fine as Queen Elizabeth I, but just doesn’t do anything really interesting with her character. To be fair, the writing shares some of this blame too. Saoirse Ronan, though, is much more compelling on screen as the titular protagonist. She gives Queen Mary a fiery intensity, but also a more sweet and vulnerable side. Her acting makes Mary a more compelling character than film itself.
And though I did not completely hate this movie, I just didn’t feel like I had that much of a stake in it. Josie Rourke and Beau Wilimon present Queen Mary a tragic figure, destroyed by men who fought to control the government. As disturbing and unsettling as that is, the filmmakers manage to dilute this message with a weak movie. Mary, Queen of Scots is a movie much more suitable for television and not one that belongs in a cinema.