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Mary Queen of Scots - Film Review

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I love the moment the lights dim, the curtain widens and the movie starts. Going to the cinema is one of life's great activities and should be enjoyed as much as possible.
Published January 29th 2019
Off with her head
ŠUniversal Pictures

Mary Queen of Scots has hit cinemas as the latest period piece "based" on historical events. I'm not very strong on my England/Scotland history, so I didn't get too bogged down worrying about historical accuracy.

The film is directed by Josie Rourke and is her feature film debut. The film stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth (following in fellow Aussie Cate Blanchett's shoes). The film details the conflict between England and Scotland, or between Catholic and Protestants (another weak area of my history knowledge) when Mary returns to Scotland after being widowed in France.

The film focuses primarily on Mary and her struggle to hold on to her throne, whilst also dealing with the scheming men who mostly seek to undermine and manipulate her. She is forced or tricked into marriages and despite her position as queen, she is unable to rule with much power.

The film shifts focus at times to Elizabeth and parallels the two character's struggles with the political climate and the endless series of horrible men. They are sisters, they are cousins, they are rivals and yet they've never met each other. The film suggests that the two could have been great allies for each other, but the political and religious climate of the time doesn't allow this.

The film is very pretty and feels real, but doesn't give you a really strong feeling that we're dealing with two countries or two kingdoms. Rather, it feels rather small in scale, as we see only a few small areas of each country, as the film doesn't seem to have the budget to really expand the world in which it is set.
The film doesn't present any of the fighting or even much of the politics in any over the top Hollywood way, keeping most aspects of the film driven by dialogue for the most part.

Ronan carries much of the film, and despite only being 24 years old, she shows her vast experience throughout, giving a strong performance. Ronan has been the lead in several films already, such as The Lovely Bones and Brooklyn.

Margot Robbie gives probably the most note-worthy performance overall, despite Elizabeth being a secondary character for much of the film. It is an unglamorous role, showing Elizabeth at her most frail and not shying away from her illnesses. Considering the academy's liking of glamorous actors taking on unglamorous roles in the past, Robbie may be in line for a best-supporting actress award next year.

The male characters are far less enjoyable, as their characters aren't pleasant or that particularly interesting. Guy Pearce works hard to distract you from a terrible wig, but he feels a little out of place, probably because we don't get enough time with him to develop his character. Most men are written fairly one dimensional, as to keep with the focus on Mary and Elizabeth's struggle against the power-hungry men. The lack of character development hurts the film when suddenly some male characters completely change personality out of the blue.

Whilst I personally can't comment on the historical accuracy of the movie, I did feel Mary was presented as a very liberal, open-minded woman, who was extremely accepting of various people in the plot, some which I felt seemed extremely unlikely for the time.

Overall, the film feels a bit more like a TV show, in the style of The Tudors perhaps (minus all the sex). It doesn't quite hit the cinematic levels it needs to, and the narrative builds to a particular scene, but once it's over, the film rushes to the credits and leaves you feeling like you missed a lot of information in the latter part of the story. It's especially funny that the film clearly identifies that the final moments of the film take place 25 years later, yet few characters appear to be any older. That said, it isn't a waste of time seeing the film, as its worth watching just for the performances of the two leads.

3/5 Beards

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