Directed by Josie Rourke and centred by a Saoirse Ronan-Margot Robbie one-two, Mary Queen of Scots is at once sumptuously realised yet somehow lacking in punch.
As you expect from a period drama written by Beau Willimon, Mary Queen of Scots comes off like House of Cards to some degree. There is verbal sabotage, political machinations running rampant and a character driven piece which at heart revels in human weakness. Directed by Josie Rourke and centred by a Saoirse Ronan–Margot Robbie one-two, it is at once sumptuously realised yet somehow lacking in punch.
Supported by a cast which includes Ian Hart, David Tennant and Guy Pearce amongst its number, both female leads more than compete on an equal footing amongst such illustrious company. Tennant is all fire and brimstone beneath pitch black vestments and a fifteen foot beard as John Knox, while Pearce is cultured, conniving and calculated as William Cecil. Over the course of this film as the fortunes of both women fluctuate it is Robbie who fairs better as Elizabeth, a self-isolating monarch surrounded by would-be suitors and male manipulators.
More stoic than showy Robbie is caked beneath glacial face powder, swathed in majestic garments and scarred by illness before finally she meets Mary Stuart. Decades of isolation, paranoia and mistrust are communicated with subtlety by a monarch who was defined by her icy demeanour, childless reign and unwavering empowerment. Her sister meanwhile is outspoken, brazenly free spirited and radiantly beautiful. Married and widowed by eighteen, Ronan gives her Mary Stuart an emboldened sense of self which flies in the face of convention.
It is the back and forth between these women of power which provides a foundation upon which other things flourish. Willimon weaves a web of intrigue which overlaps across the country as usurpers, confidantes and ladies in waiting each try to undermine or ill-advise both monarchs. That the outcome of this film is not a foregone conclusion goes without saying, yet somewhere along the line investment is lost. There is no one thing which causes attentions to drift while every member of this cast remains fully engaged, yet it remains a fact from the midway point that is unavoidable.
Besides this minor flaw, Mary Queen of Scots provides us with a fresh perspective on an age old battle between sexes. In a period of professional and personal equality amongst filmmakers its subject matter might seem opportunistic, yet it still remains relevant if a little lacking in backbone.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Josie Rourke
Written by: Beau Willimon
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, Gemma Chan, Guy Pearce
Released: 2018 / Genre: Period Drama
Country: USA/UK / IMDB
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Mary Queen of Scots is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download.