The Queen of Scotland fights for her claim to the British crowd in Mary Queen of Scots. After a number of years as the Queen of France, the recently widowed Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) returns home to Scotland and stakes her claims as the heir of the British throne, currently held by Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). The feud between the two monarchs is intensified by the scheming of the men of the kingdom, such as Mary’s suitor Henry Darnley (Jack Lowden), Elizabeth’s chief adviser William Cecil (Guy Pearce), and Protestant cleric John Knox (David Tennant).
First time filmmaker Josie Rourke directs this historical drama written by Beau Willimon (House of Cards), based on the book “Queen of Scots, The True Story of Mary Stuart,” written by British historian John Guy. Mary Queen of Scots details the feud between cousins Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I, with Mary wanting to be recognized as the true heir of the British throne. However, Mary’s attempts to unite the kingdom only results in more friction, particularly from the Protestant church, who refuses to serve a Catholic Queen in Mary. At the same time, Mary becomes the target of multiple men, who want to use her to become crowned king.
There are many times when Mary Queen of Scots seems to be about little more than the exquisite costumes worn by Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, by Oscar winning designer Alexandra Byrne (Elizabeth: The Golden Age). However, the film also features a level of conniving and scheming that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Game of Thrones. Also similar to the HBO series is a shockingly violent murder that comes out of nowhere and a couple of rape scenes, both which follow the film’s overall theme of the horrible nature of men.
The story of Mary Stuart is a tragic one and Mary Queen of Scots makes sure to emphasize this point by revealing how everything is going to turn out in the film’s opening moments. The film also serves as a contrast between the lives of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, with the latter opting not to marry her lover Robert Dudley (Joe Alwyn) and instead presents herself as “more man than woman.” In fact, in many ways, it is both Mary’s femininity and Catholic faith that ends up being her undoing, especially after John Knox uses his sermons to spread false rumors about her.
Mary Queen of Scots is a historical drama that looks pretty, however it is ultimately lacking the substance to truly hook me in. If I wanted to watch scheming and (literal) backstabbing, I would likely be more entertained by just watched Game of Thrones.