The stresses inside the halls of power have always been complex and far too involved with what happened behind closed doors…
Mary Queen of Scots marks a noted stage director’s debut on the big screen and while it marks some incredibly positive high mark moments it never really understands or embraces the scope of the story that it is trying to tell.
The life of the charismatic Mary Stuart (Saorise Ronan) was a turbulent one. 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 1 (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.
Ultimately, Mary Queen of Scots is a solid little psychodrama and while it lacks some of the historical gravitas of similarly themed films that have come before it, we are still drawn into what truly anchors it all in the double edged lynch pin that anchors it all. Two ridiculously strong leads in Saorise Ronan and Margot Robbie.
Josie Rourke moves her talents from the West-End of London and Broadway to the silver screen and the results are certainly positive. Her sense of staging and use of sets really comes into effect here as some of the more closed quarters encounters in this film really do manage to generate an unexpected sense of power in them. It’s intimate and slick in all the right spots and even though some of the large set piece moments and sequences don’t work as well as you’d hope you can see that she’ll get there in time and unlike someone like a Julie Taymor who made the transition in a big and bold fashion visually, Rourke does her best work with the actors and the characters in play.
The script from Beau Willimon who adapted from the book; Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy does one very important thing exceptionally well when pulling from this time period as we can feel the ego dripping from every word of our two main characters as these uniquely strong women are forced to navigate the halls of power which have always historically been occupied by men. It may play a little fast and loose with the history of it all but it keeps the focus and these two unique women and how they adapted in order to not only survive, but often thrive.
To try and have this story of the struggle of power between these two women play out like a statement on the #metoo movement may feel accurate, but it’s also a little too simplistic at the same time. Sure they were in positions of power pushing back at the traditions and systems that had all been laid down by men before them but they both had to push back at each other because while they were fascinated by each other they also knew what a real threat they were to each other and the way of life that they wanted to uphold.
In the title role, Saorise Ronan manages to exude the aura that was earned to her title throughout history. It was a nuance performance as she was cunning and occasionally even brilliant on a political level, her interpersonal skills left much to be desired as she was never quite in control of that side of her personality as she thought she was. On the flipside of the equation, Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I had just as much of tumultuous time with her personal wants and desires, much like Mary did but Robbie imbued her performance with a world weary savvy of a woman who knew exactly what it would take to maintain her throne. Even though these actresses rarely shared the frame together, it all played out like a wonderful psychological duel. And while it may not have unfolded in the exact way it did historically, we get treated to a hell of a fun ride.
Ultimately, that’s what Mary Queen of Scots is, not so much a history lesson but a psychological examination of two women in power and their efforts at not only survival but figuring out the best ways that they could thrive. Obviously there was a winner and loser in all this but the film does a great job of showing the razor’s edge that both these women had to walk in their personal and professional standings.
- Genre: Drama, Period
- Release Date: 12/14/2018
- Directed by: Josie Rourke
- Starring: Margot Robbie, Saorise Ronan
- Written by: Beau Willimon
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