REVIEW: Mary Queen of Scots

Saoirse Ronan offers a mesmerising and powerful performance.

History books have not been kind in terms of the impressions that they give us of Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I. Now Josie Rourke seeks to redress this issue by offering a refreshing perspective of both women (although of course mainly focusing more on Mary) struggling to do what was best for their countries when surrounded by men.

Josie Rourke’s film is based on the John Guy’s biography Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart and takes the audience from Queen Mary’s arrival back to Scotland, all the way through the political turmoil that runs throughout her reign to a tragic ending.

Much has been made of the historical inaccuracies in Beau Willimon’s screenplay – including a meeting between the two Queens that never took place. The scene in question is actually one of the strongest moments in the film; a quiet reflective moment that sees both characters at their most vulnerable but equally it is a powerful reminder of just how much of a burden wearing the crown was for both women. It is a wonderfully understated scene that reflects both characters well and works perfectly in context with the rest of the film. To talk about historical inaccuracies is absolutely pointless as we know that there is certainly more than one version of events in the past (depending on who is telling it) that there is no way of knowing for sure the exact truth.

Much of the film is very politically focused, but Willimon’s screenplay untangles many of the thorny issues that lay at the centre of both the Scottish and English Courts – filled with suspicion and betrayal on all sides that keeps it accessible for those who aren’t so familiar with this period of history. Throughout, Rourke stylishly captures all of the conflicts and brutality of the era – highlighted in the horrific moments of David Rizzio’s brutal murder and Bothwell attacking Mary in an attempt to get her to marry him.

John Mathieson’s cinematography is rich and lavish, with the landscapes being beautifully captured right down to the smallest detail, while the dismal interiors of the castles highlight the danger and suspicion within them to great effect. This is all helped by Max Richter’s extraordinary score, that wraps itself around the drama perfectly.

The performances of the cast are all mesmerising to watch. Saoirse Ronan as Queen Mary delivers one of her very best performances so far – a spirited and brave personality, whose love for her country shines through in every speech she makes. It is a performance that commands full attention – particularly in the early scenes as Mary is determined to make her own mark. In contrast, Margot Robbie makes for a vulnerable Queen Elizabeth – the burden of her crown seemingly pressing down on her, but shows great courage in not allowing this vulnerability to try and colour her views on what is best for England – despite the guidance of her councillors suggesting otherwise. It is a performance that is understated but effective.

There is strong support from Jack Lowden as the immensely dislikable Darnley whose passion and greed turns out to be his downfall, David Tennant as the outspoken and potentially dangerous John Knox and Adrian Lester as Lord Randolph delivers an understated but effective performance.

Mary Queen of Scots is a passionate and refreshing film that highlights the courage of both Queens to great effect and with plenty of style.

By Emma Clarendon

Mary Queen of Scots is in cinemas now. 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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