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Movie Review: Mary Queen of Scots


Queen of France at 16 and widowed at 18, Mary Stuart defies pressure to remarry. Instead, she returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne. However, Scotland and England fall under the rule of the compelling Elizabeth I. Each young Queen beholds her sister in fear and fascination. Rivals in power and in love, and female regents in a masculine world, the two must decide how to play the game of marriage versus independence.

Director: Josie Rourke
Writers: Beau Willimon, John Guy
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

What I loved about Mary Queen of Scots, is that it comes across as ‘authentic’. And that’s because the director Josie Rourke, and her team, have gone all out. The attention to not just the period details as in setting, dress, dialogue, but also the tone has all been thought about, and, to my eye at least, done with care.

And then there’s the cinematography, which is simply outstanding. This is at once lush, and intimate, and the next? In your face and brutal during the battle scenes, with long shot vistas of wild moorland battered by the weather. Through to richly coloured scenes of Elizabethan majesty, then to dark and sombre moments of greys and blacks as John Knox—and the Scottish Reformation—revile the returned of Mary and her courtiers to Scotland. Certainly, the colour palate is evocative and mood-setting.

But it’s the quality of acting by the two leads in Mary Queen of Scots that puts this one up there, worthy, IMHO, of Oscar-contention. And yet, it was given nothing and, as I understand, only nominated for one category: Best Costume Design. Which just goes to show that the Oscars is not about the best movies produced in any given year, but about how much money companies are willing to spend on publicity to promote their movie, come Oscar Ballot time. Of course, it’s a British-made movie, maybe that explains why.

Oscars aside, Mary Queen of Scots, has some of the best up-coming talent in both Saoirse Ronan—playing the young Mary—who excels in showing Mary’s strength and determination. While Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I, was mesmerizing in her onscreen transformation. Each actress in full control of their character, bringing them to life in every scene. There are moments of heartbreak, moments of lust, moments of vitriol and fury, and shocking moments. As in when Mary is raped by Lord Bothwell, who’s meant to be her protector, who then forcibly became her third husband.

There are a number of critics who cited certain inaccuracies, as in the English ambassador to the Scottish Court, Lord Randolph, being played by a black actor, when the man himself was white. But honestly, unless you a die-hard history buff, the portrayal by an actor of colour didn’t diminish my over-all enjoyment, nor did the so-called ‘brutal’ violence people have cited to dis the movie. As far as I could see, the violence that accorded the movie an “R” rating—which I personally think was unjustified—was not prolonged, intense, or that graphic when compared to other movies.

All in all, in summing up, for me, the acting of both actresses just goes to show the calibre of these two ladies in breathing life into their characters. The supporting cast were all excellent, while the writing makes this one both an epic and a tragedy of betrayal.

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