Biography Drama

Review: ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ is an Intriguing Look at Two of History’s Most Powerful Women

December 13, 2018Britany Murphy

There have been many powerful women throughout history. And while we know many of them based on the stories we've heard, director Josie Rourke's Mary Queen of Scots delves deeper into the story of two in particular, with a mix of intrigue and suspense that boasts stellar performances from Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie.

The film begins with a young Mary (Ronan) returning to Scotland from France after the death of her husband, Francis. While she was away, her half-brother was the ward of the throne, but upon Mary's arrival, the tension between the pair is palpable. In addition to the distance that has been between Mary and her country for some years, the growing discord between the Catholic and Protestant citizens were at an all-time high, especially with Mary adamant about remaining a practicing Catholic.

Not only did this aggravate some of her people, it also did not sit well with some of the Protestant church's biggest heads of state, like John Knox (David Tennant), who is displeased that a woman now officially sits on Scotland's throne, and that she is a Catholic woman at that. Between this and Mary believing she is the rightful heir to the throne of England, where she wants a united people, the relationship between her and her cousin, Elizabeth I (Robbie), begins to fall apart.

With the two powerful women waging a war of wits, the men who counsel them want the pair pitted against one another, while wanting to usurp both women of their titles because they believe that women are unfit to rule. In fact, at one point in the movie Knox says, "We have a scourge upon our land. It is a woman with a crown."

Beau Willimon's script has a lot of history within it, and while there are bound to be some historical inaccuracies, it does a good job laying out the most important elements as it pertains to Mary and Elizabeth's relationship, the scheming of the men who they found themselves surrounded by, and ultimately Mary's downfall. Rourke does a great job peppering drama throughout the historical moments, which makes for a fascinating watch. The movie is also progressive in terms of having people of color in roles of power, something that is very rare in historical dramas. It is amazing to see Gemma Chan as Bess of Hardwick and Adrian Lester as Lord Randolph, and both are great in their respective roles.

In keeping with the great performances, kudos need to be given to both Ronan and Robbie. For much of the movie the two are apart, so they don't get the opportunity to act off of one another, but that doesn't matter. With a vast amount of separate screen time shared between the two of them, interacting with their courts, ladies in waiting, and a plethora of confidantes, there's never a dull moment. Both Ronan and Robbie draw you in with their performances and when the duo finally do meet, it's a moment to be remembered. It's likely you have seen the moment in the trailer with the standout line, "I will not be scolded by my inferior!" However, the trailer truly doesn't do the scene enough justice. The meeting of Mary and Elizabeth I is wonderfully shot, with the two having to meet in secret adding another layer to the story.

Mary Queen of Scots is a great film for any lovers of period dramas, historical moments in time, and just those who are interested in a well-acted, beautifully shot story with amazing costuming. Ronan, Robbie, Tennant, Chan and Lester are great to watch — so much so, that it's hard to take your eyes off the screen.

Mary Queen of Scots releases December 14th, 2018 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 4 min.

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