There’s a flurry of films coming out at the moment with strong female characters at the centre: The Favourite, Colette, Disobedience and this one, Mary Queen of Scots. About time too. Perhaps Hollywood’s financiers are finally realising (post Weinstein), the value of allowing the stories and portrayals of remarkable women to come to the fore. This is not the first interpretation of Mary Stuart and her defiant Gaelic passion, but in the latest version written by Beau Willimon, the emphasis is on the similarities between Stuart, and her English reigning cousin, Elizabeth.
The experience of this movie is mixed. Parts of it, mostly the meeting between the two women (which never really happened) and the last fifteen minutes, are powerful and moving. Conversely parts of it are a bit dull, with some one dimensional characters, including David Tennant’s John Knox. It’s more the script and direction at fault than the acting, which is mostly very believable. Saoirse Ronan is excellent as the feisty, fierce and opinionated yet culturally tolerant Mary. Margot Robbie too is riveting, playing a multi faceted, complex Elizabeth. She does very well to maintain an English accent throughout. Especially as it must have been doubly hard playing with fellow Australian Guy Pearce, who shares many scenes with her. Pearce constantly lapses into a bizarre dialect somewhere between England and Australia, raising some questions about casting decisions.
Mary Queen of Scots the movie is an interesting way to learn about UK history. The themes of peace, tolerance, discord, independence and unification could not be more pertinent now, hundreds of years on. The role of women in powerful positions is also at the forefront of the film’s message. We meet two intuitive queens effective led astray by the advice and aggressive input of men with their own agendas, most of whom doubt the efficacy of femininity in politics. Both are also easily led, particularly when it comes to government and in Mary’s case, her romantic alliances. The Scottish landscape is a gift to any cinematographer. In Mary Queen of Scots it makes for many a moody, stunning vista (while also continuing the untrue assumption that it is ALWAYS dreich here). It’s one of the aspects that make this movie so watchable. Mary Queen of Scots isn’t going to take cinemas by storm. But it is an eye opening, relevant and intriguing look at lives lived long ago, that are a direct part of history on both sides of the Scottish – English border.
Mary Queen of Scots is on general release across the UK.