FOCUS FEATURES (2019)

 

Director: Josie Rourke

 

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, Guy Pearce

No one does history quite like the Brits.

 

The Rising of the North in 1569 was an important moment in British history. The Northern Catholics attempt to usurp Queen Elizabeth I from the throne and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots was audacious but ultimately unsuccessful. Directed by debutant Josie Rourke, historical drama Mary Queen of Scots depicts the events surrounding and leading up to the end of the conflict focusing more on Mary herself and her journey, struggles, and various relationships. However, Rourke and screenwriter Beau Willimon take more than a fair share of liberties with historical accuracy.

The truth is never all that exciting, really, and Mary Queen of Scots attempts to make thing slightly more racy and dramatic for the screen, which doesn’t really do the characters justice. Historical buffs will balk at some of the narrative directions that Rourke opts for, including some not-quite-steamy sex scenes, moments that defined lives, apparently. Mary Queen of Scots is a wonderful looking movie, the period captured with a real keen eye for the beauty and majesty and the makeup work is fantastic. Margot Robbie undergoes the major transformations here, dolled up in full white makeup at times and at others riddled with nasty looking smallpox – her Elizabeth is played with a real vulnerability disguised with a sheet of confidence that could crumble at any moment as her psyche is withered away. It’s a standout performance despite being a relatively small part. Saoirse Ronan is just as you would expect here, solid and dependable even with an iffy Scottish accent that gives way to her natural Irish sounds throughout. The two leads together are well-pitted and there meeting of the two cousins provides the highlight of the movie. It’s the 110-minutes that precede it that’s part of the problem. Mary Queen of Scots isn’t a bad movie at all, it’s just not particularly engrossing even with the historical liberties. The characters go about their business with each other and nothing really feels vital which is a disappointment given the actual material here.

 

Even the shared condemnation the two pour upon their male advisors and counterparts seems limp and, despite it being a major theme, doesn’t ring home fully or do the story all that much justice. The desires and lust for power are also prevalent and, again, fails to ignite a real spark. Everything is just…fine. Themes of fertility and (Elizabeth’s famous) virginity are brushed aside for lots of talking and slow-moving characters (literally) as they move from one lavishly crafted scene to another. Therein lies the real issue, Mary Queen of Scots is a movie that looks great, but beneath that lies something slightly blander.

 

The marketing seemed to make this historically inaccurate portrayal out to be woman vs. woman, cousin against cousin in a tense face-off for supremacy. In reality, the two leads share next to no time together and the dramatic narrative really isn’t that striking. Despite some fine performances, Mary Queen of Scots ends up being a wonderful looking but still rather dull affair.

January 30th 2019

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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