Mary Queen of Scots
Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Ismael Cruz Córdova, David Tennant, Jack Lowden
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…takes an upper-tier cast, a fascinating piece of historical drama, and truly burgeoning filmmaking talent in director Josie Rourke, and manages to bring the best out in all of them.
This is the kind of double-billing that makes for the stuff of cinematic history. On one side, you have Saoirse Ronan, who has had an unprecedentedly excellent track record these last handful of years, from Brooklyn to Lady Bird to On Chesil Beach. And on the other, Margot Robbie, star of one of the year’s finest efforts I, Tonya, and a rising force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. As Mary Stuart and Elizabeth R respectively, this shows them both at the peak of their respective powers.
Saoirse’s knack for strong-willed and wildly affecting character acting brings the Queen of Scots roaring to life, balancing almost superhuman poise and restraint with enough simmering power to reduce anyone else in the room to cinders. Robbie as the reclusive and aesthetically-obsessed Queen of England channels even quieter emotion at deafening levels, creating a solemn and even tragic depiction of a monarch who wears the crown on a very worrisome head.
These two could so very easily carry the entire film on their own, but thanks to great supporting performances – David Tennant as a fear-mongering cleric, Ismael Cruz Córdova as Mary’s private secretary David Rizzio (or sassy gay friend, as realised here) and James McArdle as Mary’s half-brother – they thankfully don’t have to.
Nor do they have to lift up the entire production around them as this film’s depiction of the turbulent and scandal-laden life of Mary Stuart does a capital job of highlighting the ruler who wanted to unite kingdoms and stop the fighting, yet was more than willing to take up arms herself when needed, either in the literal sense or in staring down those who wished to dethrone her.
It’s a depiction of Elizabethan sexual politics that shows remarkable progressivism from Mary, especially in her relationship with both Jack Lowden’s Lord Darnley and David Rizzio, yet it never feels anachronistic or even pandering.
Indeed, as captured by DOP John Mathieson and Alexandra Byrne’s impeccable costume design, it all fits in nicely.
While the film’s depiction of country matters certainly gives this period drama genuine sensuality, it ultimately serves as backing for the film’s bigger statements. Namely, how everything from physical love to emotional love become pawns in the dynastic game of chess, particularly with regards to female rulers in a largely patriarchal time. The need to show one’s own independence, removed from talk of lineage and marriages of convenience just to tie ruling families together, is given immense weight through both Mary and Elizabeth, both showing different sides of how the throne can affect both those in power and those who seek to take it.
Period costume dramas take a serious level of talent to make them work, let alone make interesting in the modern film market, but this manages to accomplish just that. It takes an upper-tier cast, a fascinating piece of historical drama, and truly burgeoning filmmaking talent in director Josie Rourke, and manages to bring the best out in all of them.