Movie Review: Mary Queen of Scots

Focus FeaturesFocus FeaturesWho knew that 16th Century Scotland was so very much like our own time and place? At the rather grim court of the Scottish Queen Mary (Saoirse Ronan), we encounter an unexpected ethnic diversity (there are nobles of color) and a surprisingly up-to-date view of gender. (Addressing a transvestite man cavorting among the ladies of the bedchamber, Mary says, “Be whoever you would be with us. You make for a lovely sister.”)

Maybe this is the way it was back then—I haven’t read Professor John Guy’s biography of Mary Stuart, upon which Beau Willimon (House of Cards) based his screenplay for Mary Queen of Scots. But it is a historical fact that Mary never met the English Queen Elizabeth I, her cousin and reluctant antagonist—and yet the two women do confront one another in this movie. Which is fine by me, since the scene in which they finally come face to face, in a room that’s oddly but dramatically filled with wafting white curtains, is the best scene in the picture.

Until that point, which comes toward the end of the movie, we spend most of our time with Ronan’s Mary—a spunky teen on first sighting, newly arrived at Edinburgh’s Holyrood Palace after being largely raised in France—with intermittent cutaways to the court of Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) down in England. This way of structuring the story may have been necessary, but it’s frustrating: when your cast includes two actors of Ronan’s and Robbie’s gifts, you want to see them working off each other. (Also frustrating is the movie’s production design, which has the virtue of being insistently suggestive of its period—lots of gray stone castle walls and dim interiors—but also the drawback of a mounting monotony.)

Although they appear separately for most of the movie, Rona and Robbie are both compelling on their own. Mary, a Catholic returned to Protestant Scotland to claim her throne in the face of a resistance led by beardy religious firebrand John Knox (David Tennant), is unambiguously defiant. Since she has a persuasive

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