Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Mary Queen of Scots

By Brett Haynes 29/01/19

Score: 6.5/10

Hollywood has a fascination with the Elizabethan period of history. We’ve already had two movies based around the daughter of Henry the Eighth as well as many with her firmly in the background. This time around we’re looking at it from her cousins point of view. Mary, Queen of Scots is the story of Mary Stewart, the catholic queen who returned to rule in protestant Scotland.

The film isn’t completely historically accurate but lets not pretend we go see these films for its accuracy. While the films advertising is also a little misleading. The trailers make it look like the two Queens are pitted against each other while that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Mary was supportive of Elizabeth as she was for Mary. It was the men surrounding them that caused all the trouble. Whether or not that’s historically accurate I don’t know.

Mary Queen of Scots biggest faults came from the way it tells its story. This film shows why this genre is so hard to get right. For a lot of it, this film is boring and really pushes its audience to give a damn of what’s happening on screen. The whole sense of Mary Queen of Scots is to show women in a light we don’t often connect with the 16th century. When we first meet Mary Stewart (Saoirse Ronan) she is an 18 year old recently widowed Catholic returning from France to rule in a very strong protestant Scotland. Meanwhile in England, the daughter of Henry the Eighth Elizabeth the first (Margot Robbie) sits on the throne.

Ideologically they have small differences but the biggest is the fact that Mary is a Catholic and Scotland and England are now predominantly Protestant. Mary pushes her religious freedoms allowing the people to believe in what they want ruffling the feathers of John Knox in the process (David Tennant). She is presented as the underdog with everything and everyone against her.

Margot Robbie gives another great performance but I feel like she isn’t given much to do here. While Mary is giving grand speeches, Elizabeth is sitting around knitting with her ladies in waiting. Ronan also provides are fine performance and I say if it wasn’t for the effort these ladies put into their performances this would be even more forgettable.

You can see that they’re trying to make Mary the Queen for the 21st century, showing her as a more advanced feminist icon. She stands up to men, she supports her friend who’s clearly gay and she doesn’t go quietly when she told to. Unfortunately what they are going for just doesn’t come off and you don’t buy it. It just feels like they are trying to give the 16th century 21st century values.

This story main plot is finding an heir. Mary can have her choice of suitors but eventually settles on Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden). This is more for diplomatic advantage then anything else. This leads to Mary getting pregnant (through a drunken rape scene) and providing an heir, which is in contrast with Elizabeth who remained unmarried and childless for the rest of her days. 

Overall Mary Queen of Scots tries to do a new take on the Elizabethan story but fails to give us something to really connect to. While Ronan and Robbie are fantastic, there characters either feel manufactured or underused. This isn’t great for a historical film. It reminded me a lot of The Other Boleyn girl and similar to that film I feel this one will also be quickly forgotten.

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