For our earlier review of Mary Queen of Scots, click here.
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: 124min.
Sisters are doing it for themselves. At least that’s what this film would like us to think. While its intentions are admirable, it could never quite get its message across. The right ingredients are here but the film couldn’t put them together in a satisfying way. Its pro-feminist messaging unfortunately gets buried under dull and overly convoluted subplots which only slow down the proceedings to an almost unbearable pace. As a result, the story never really gets off the ground. The film was about the rivalry between a pair of queens, Mary Stuart of Scotland (Ronan) and Elizabeth I of England (Robbie). They would compete for the English throne. However as the film went on, this would become something much more complicated and elaborate than it ever needed to be.
Though the film may not have been the most historically accurate, it didn’t seem as interested in telling the queens’ story as creating empty political intrigue masquerading as a weaker story about a pair of women overcoming the patriarchy of the period. However, the film eventually forgets the latter. Each queen had their own set of problems but since the film is named after one of them, the film focused more on Mary by forgetting about Elizabeth altogether for long stretches of time. Returning to her homeland after her time as the Queen of France would cause trouble for Mary almost immediately. She may have had the best of intentions in wanting to unite her country, however, her people would prove to be unreceptive to her beliefs.
While challenging Elizabeth for the English throne, Mary would be challenged for her own throne by her own people and the people closest to her. The rules for the throne for both countries were a little tricky to keep up with so in other words, Mary had a better claim to the throne as long as she was able to produce an heir before Elizabeth. Clearly, in order to produce an heir, they would have to be married so this would present a new set of challenges for each queen whether they would be out of love or duty but their wouldbe suitors would have intentions of their own. Meanwhile, Elizabeth was feeling the pressure.
Men in general were perhaps not depicted favorably here. The men who surrounded both queens were mostly power-hungry schemers. Conversely, its depiction of women is more favorable. They were much deeper than simply objects of desire, creating a sense of community between them. Ultimately, the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth was the best part of the film. The film would have been much better served focusing on that instead of trying to be a political thriller. Despite not lasting nearly long enough with the film pretty much forgetting Elizabeth before their rivalry abruptly became a friendship of sorts, they were still fun to watch. Each queen were deep and complex characters so it was a shame that they didn’t get to show it more. As mentioned, they were simply swallowed by the story around them.
Along those lines, Ronan and Robbie, as Mary and Elizabeth respectively, were the best part of the film. Each did their best with the material, delivering excellent performances while making Mary and Elizabeth strong and compelling characters to watch. Ronan showed great range, nuance, and vulnerability while running the gamut as Mary. Robbie was equally impressive as Elizabeth, doing so much with so little. Don’t let all that makeup fool you. She puts on a strong face while dealing with plenty of insecurity, feeling the pressure from Mary.
Overall, this was a decent feminist period piece that was not nearly as effective as it could have been, seemingly more interest in telling a dull and meandering political drama than a story that does both Mary and Elizabeth justice. The film may not be historically accurate but it looks good, technically speaking, from its costumes to its set pieces but Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie at least keep things somewhat interesting, surely not disappoint fans of either actress.