Mary Queen of Scots
dir Josie Rourke
scr Beau Willimon
prd Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward
with Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, Guy Pearce, Adrian Lester, James McArdle, Martin Compston, Ian Hart, Brendan Coyle, David Tennant, Gemma Chan, Ismael Cruz Cordova
release US 7.Dec.18, UK 18.Jan.19
18/UK Focus 2h04
Mary Queen of Scots
All the queen's men: Lowden, Ronan and McArdle

robbie alwyn pearce
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Mary Queen of Scots A ripping true story, this film recounts some 25 years in the struggle between two cousins for the British throne. The film is made to a high standard, although first-time feature director Josie Rourke's generally grey colour scheme leaves it looking murky and dull. And writer Beau Willimon's script gets bogged down in the political machinations. So it's a good thing that the actors are so strong, adding layers of fiery emotion.

In 1561, 18-year-old Catholic Queen Mary (Ronan) returns to Scotland after the death of her husband, the French monarch. In line for the English throne herself, she's a threat to her Protestant cousin Queen Elizabeth (Robbie), who offers her lover Dudley (Alwyn) as a husband in order to keep Mary in line. Instead, Mary marries her cousin Henry (Lowden), which strengthens her claim to a unified British crown. This gets stronger still when she gives birth to a son. But her half-brother James (McArdle) is plotting against her, and he's not the only one.

The film opens with Mary's execution in 1587, then cuts back to tell the story, focussing on the long-distance correspondence between these strong-willed women who are relentlessly manipulated by the vulture-like men around them. The contrast between them is striking, with Mary's youthful vigour and Elizabeth's haunted determination. And the film's depiction of their sisterhood is darkly moving, far more engaging than the political wrangling, which at times makes this feel like House of Cards meets Game of Thrones.

This is Ronan's show, and she finds extra intensity, beautifully layering Mary's steely edge with a joyous lightness. In a more difficult role, Robbie adds dark insecurity to Elizabeth's earthy resolve. Both are aware that they are not as powerful as they should be, so the respect they have for each other is pointed. In the supporting cast, Lowden and Alwyn are stand-outs as young men in the middle of the storm. While others all register strongly as men with very specific ambitions.

These masculine backroom dealings are pretty horrible, working to control these women for their own political benefit, bristling against their power. Willimon's script spends too much time on this soapy nastiness, neglecting some more engaging relational storytelling. And Rourke gives in to the big studios' trend of making movies look slick and dense rather than realistic. So the (historically suspect) sequence in which the two queens meet is both badly over-designed and emotionally thrilling.

cert 15 themes, violence, sexuality 27.Nov.18

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Mary Queen of Scots Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.

© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall