Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce
Director: Josie Rourke
Running Time: 125 mins
Mary Queen Of Scots is a British film about the rivalry between Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Mary Stuart, Queen Of Scotland, and the conflict that arose surrounding the throne of both countries in 1569.
The Tudor Period has been long-beloved by film and television for its wealth of political drama and intrigue, and the story of how one of the greatest monarchical families in British history eventually came to fall is an equally fascinating one. However, despite a wealth of historical drama, Mary Queen Of Scots is unfortunately a rather disappointing watch, proving a disjointed and frustrating biopic that fails to deliver the intrigue and tension that the history deserves, and despite some strong performances and brilliant production design, it’s a rather dull watch from beginning to end.
Let’s start on the bright side, however, with the film’s strongest suit: the production design. Trying to deliver a Game Of Thrones-esque vibe with its focus on the thirst for power in all realms, Mary Queen Of Scots is a deliberately drab and dark piece, but it gives an earthy and convincing quality to the film that makes the time period feel all the more tactile.
Too many period pieces have a tendency to portray medieval settings as dollhouses, with far too much style over substance, but there’s a deliberate and concerted effort to give the setting a darker and more grounded look that, in tandem with some lush costume design and stunning make-up work, really brings the period to life in far more interesting fashion than most.
Another plus comes in the form of the lead performances, with a strong and convincing turn from Saoirse Ronan in the lead as Mary Stuart, as well as an equally striking – albeit disappointingly sporadic – appearance from Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I. The two actresses do a great job at making their characters as strong and tough as can be, and it plays in well to the ever-growing conflict that begins to burn between their two courts.
With that said, this film doesn’t quite manage to deliver that story about conflict in particularly interesting or swift fashion. Despite a stunning production and two great lead turns, the movie’s screenplay is incredibly muddled, as it fails to double down on key aspects of the history to make for a properly fascinating watch.
Now, while it’s clear that the future of England and Scotland lays very much in the balance as the two queens become further embroiled in a potential succession crisis, the movie takes a very confusing attitude to showing the battle for power, struggling to clarify who the people that really hold the power are.
In effect, there are two stories happening at the same time here, but they don’t gel at all well together. On the one hand, you have the strong and increasingly ambitious presence of Mary Stuart, as she threatens the English throne and Elizabeth’s heritage, and on the other, you have a story about how both queens were held back by the political machinations of the men in their respective courts, men with ambitions far greater than simply serving their monarchs.
Individually, those stories are interesting indeed, but the film jumps back and forth between the two at a frantic rate, to the point where you don’t really know what to focus on as the viewer, whether what you’re seeing is important with regard to the tension between Mary and Elizabeth, or whether it’s all about the political wrangling in the domestic court.
What’s more is that the focus on Elizabeth I’s side of the story is woefully underdeveloped, and leaves the movie feeling a little lop-sided for the story it’s trying to tell. Sure, the film is called Mary Queen Of Scots, and Mary Stuart rightly takes the role of the main character, but I felt far more attention needed to be given to Elizabeth’s situation to further deepen the intensity and stakes of what’s playing out on screen, rather than something that spends a little too much time focusing on Mary’s personal life, with little or no wider impact.
The movie definitely has its moments, and with an enthralling face-off between the two queens in the final act, it’s certainly a story that has immense potential for big screen intrigue, but it unfortunately muddles its way through the majority of its 2 hour runtime, as such making for a frustrating and unfortunately even dull watch for a large proportion of the movie.
Overall, I was rather disappointed by Mary Queen Of Scots. As I said, it has its moments, and along with sublime production design and two strong lead performances, it’s by no means a bad film, but when it comes to delivering a riveting and thoroughly coherent historical story, the film really falls flat, with a muddled focus that ultimately leaves it feeling disjointed and confusing, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.0.