Mary Queen of Scots explores the turbulent life of the charismatic Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan). 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 (Margot Robbie).
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.
Billed as a double header, it is the titular Mary who receives much more screen time and focus. Robbie’s portrayal of Elizabeth I is very much a supporting role. This is Mary’s story and a vehicle for Saoirse Ronan to display her many wonderful talents. She is simply brilliant as the Scottish monarch, powerful, commanding when holding court and yet gentile and vulnerable when in private. A performance worthy of award contention without question! Robbie does provide an excellent ‘foil’ for her to play off and in moments where the pair come face to face there is a definite crackle of anticipation in the room.
These performances aside, there were moments of lag in Mary Queen of Scots. Given the nature of these historical dramas there are many scenes of people discussing events around tables and (while never dull) these do unfortunately remove well earned momentum at times. This however, is a minor quibble in what remains a compelling story
These monarchs are set against not only each other but their own respective courts. Their decisions are challenged, altered and ignored by the men who surround them. This film is not subtle in highlighting the difficulties faced by being female and in charge. A wild eyed David Tennant as Protestant preacher John Knows increasingly enraged by the notion of Mary on the throne. The very idea that Scotland should be under the control of a woman who submits to the Papal will of Rome is utterly abhorrent to him. The men that circle the courts ofMary and indeed Elizabeth are self serving, manipulative and power hungry. They see the women they serve as their tool through which their influence and intentions can be spread. This feeds into all aspects of royal existence like a virus, entering al aspects of life including the decision as to who Mary is ‘allowed’ to marry.
‘How cruel men are’ exclaims Elizabeth at one point and it is hard to argue against that point as it is men whose advice and blatant disrespect to their female monarchs rule the day rather than the solicitations that both royals bring to the table.
The convenient manipulation of religion, politics, and a human desire for control / seeking further power has sadly always been at the core of how the world works. Mary Queen of Scots serves a historical reminder that resistance is a powerful statement even when power lies outside of your control.
Mary Queen of Scots is released in cinemas on January 18th.