Movie ReviewsMary Queen of Scots – An Adequate Feminist Period Piece (Early Review)

leandromatos1981December 13, 2018

Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie shine as two very strong women who fought for the throne of England.

Synopsis: “Mary Queen of Scots” explores the turbulent life of the charismatic Mary Stuart. Queen of France at 16 and widowed at 18, Mary defies pressure to  remarry. Instead, she returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne. But Scotland and England fall under the rule of the compelling Elizabeth I. Each  young Queen beholds her “sister” in fear and fascination. Rivals in power and in love, and female regents in a masculine world, the two must decide how to play  the game of marriage versus independence. Determined to rule as much more than a figurehead, Mary asserts her claim to the English throne, threatening  Elizabeth’s sovereignty. Betrayal, rebellion, and conspiracies within each court  imperil both thrones –and change the course of history. (Universal Pictures)

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, and Guy Pierce

Writer: Beau Willimon

Director: Josie Rourke

Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)

Running Time: 124mins


The story is about Mary Queen of Scots (Ronan) returns to her native Scotland, a widower, to assume her throne and claim the throne of England from Elizabeth I (Robbie). Men, who only talk about conspiracy and seek to gain more power, surround both women and Mary’s counsel, in particular, do not accept being ruled by a woman very well. Their schemes put both rulers on a collision path while they feel a strange connection to each other.

Historical films about queen and kings, conspiracies and evil plans in English court are hardly new. They’ve been around since forever. Or at least for long as films exist. So there’s nothing really unprecedented with the story of Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart. There have been films before dealing with this exact rivalry; one in particular with two amazing actresses making a hugely entertaining spectacle while facing each other: Glenda Jackson (as the Queen of England) and Vanessa Redgrave (as the Queen of Scots). Actually, if there is anything new here historic wise is that no one gets poisoned while drinking wine.

However, there are two aspects in the film that felt like breaths of fresh air: the modern ways it portrays its women and the relationships in court. The movie doesn’t shy away from adultery, lust, bisexuality and cross-dressing. It’s all natural in court, even if it’s not advertised for everyone to know. That breaks down the notion that these societies were so strict people were not allowed having any kind of happiness or freedom. Most movies about the period that dealt with lust and sex usually approached these subjects by the heterosexual and orthodox perspective and pretty much all characters would frown upon anyone who behaved differently. So it is very welcoming to see people having a chance to show their true colors and being embraced while doing so with all of it being dealt with in a very naturalistic and understanding way.

However, the most welcoming aspect of this film was its depiction of its female characters, especially both queens. The ladies of the court feel desire, lust and carnal pleasure and are not scared of subtly letting (some) men know that. They are not ashamed nor they are just porcelain dolls for the entertainment of men. But they are more than that: they are all sisters, genuinely interested in one another and supporting each other fiercely. It is a very feminist approach to these characters and relationships. Ultimately, Elizabeth and Mary were the strongest figures, beaming with humanity.

Elizabeth shows a lot of fragility and a different kind of intelligence: she’s emotionally intelligent. That does not mean she’s not insecure also, or that she isn’t afraid because she also becomes more and more tortured and paranoid as the years go on. But she respects Mary; she understands her own disadvantages and wants to do the right thing. While she is afraid of losing the thrown and intimidated by Mary, she also understands she can’t win all her fights and that it would be best to just accept some of her failures. It’s a very naturalistic, complex and human portrait of a queen who’s always been depicted as ruthless. Robbie’s performance only enhances the quality of this point of view and although hers is a supporting character, Robbie does it all with the role, so much so that she comes out of it with a very memorable impersonation of such a famous person.

Mary Stuart, the true lead in the film, also gets a memorable portrait by Ronan. Ronan is one of those actresses that can insert herself in any decade or century and totally transform her image and her behavior. She’s done 1950’s, the 2000’s and now the 1500’s and she’s always believable, as she was born in those eras. She is able to combine both the soft and fierce sides of Mary, showing us how her queen is able to almost achieve the impossible but also fail in see what’s right in front of her. She’s strong-minded and opinionated but she is sweet and forgiving and not afraid to show her true feelings for her loved ones. Although we are meant to cheer for her, the movie doesn’t shy away from how her pride and her stubbornness were responsible for her fate. It’s a very exciting performance and both actresses are able to elevate the material, even when the movie is just okay.

Mary Queen of Scots is not a movie that will change anyone’s lives. But it is a very entertaining retelling of this historical fact with a feminist sensibility and visually stunning. Totally worth the look.

Score: 7/10

*Mary Queen of Scots opens in select cities starting December 14th*

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