Mary Queen of Scots
If we could take a film, put it in a time capsule and bring it out in some centuries’ time to give our great-great-great-granddaughters a feel for the zeitgeist of 2019 – the age of #MeToo, increased awareness of gender-based issues and fourth-wave feminism – this would be the one.
Mary Queen of Scots is the story of widowed queen Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan), returned to her native Scotland to reclaim the throne from her cousin Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). The question of succession engages the two monarchs in a tactical battle for power, as they also fight to protect their sovereignty from the ambitious men that surround them.
Director Josie Rourke has made a point of making her queens poster girls for gender and race equality. For one thing, their respective chambers are populated by the Asian beauty Gemma Chan and the charming Puerto Rican-born Ismael Cruz Córdova, and the screenplay hits on a plethora of important issues from homosexuality and cross-dressing, to periods and sex. Props to the filmmaker for weaving these narratives into the plot, but ultimately this plays out like a round of political correctness bingo. Would Queen Mary have discussed orgasms with her chambermaids? And how likely is it that Lord Darnley, having pleasured the young queen, would have finished up with “Don’t worry about me”? It’s refreshing to see this dynamic in a Hollywood sex scene, of course, but in an Elizabethan period drama, it seems misplaced and contrived.
Ronan is excellent as in the titular role, and gives a nuanced performance of real maturity. There is also surely an Academy Award nomination here for the costume and makeup department, for Robbie’s transformation into the Virgin Queen is quite extraordinary.
The film closes on Mary, young as she was at the start, though Elizabeth has aged 25 years. This concept is an interesting one, but at odds with the realism of the rest of the film. Furthermore, from a historical perspective, Mary Queen of Scots is consistently problematic. However, this film is undeniably a visual feast, from the costumes to the panoramic shots of the dramatic Scottish countryside, and a dark and gripping drama of great entertainment value.
Mary Queen of Scots is released nationwide on 18th January 2019.
Watch the trailer for Mary Queen of Scots here: