South Asian Insider
Mary Queen of Scots movie review:
Margot Robbie, Saoirse Ronan star in a bloodless Game of Thrones
Mary Queen of Scots
Director - Josie Rourke
Cast - Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Joe Alwyn, Jack Lowden, David Tennant, Guy Pearce
Rating - 2.5/5
Mary Queen of Scots is a handsome film, dressed to the nines in distracting costumes, which, once removed reveal a rather skeletal screenplay.
Written by Beau Willimon - the master political dramatist behind The Ides of March and more popularly, House of Cards - the script makes the ill-advised decision to pit two prominent historical figures - both women - against each other, only to wag a disapproving finger at the audience for enjoying watching them squabble.
Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie play royal cousins, who find themselves in a battle of wits, deviousness, and power against each other over the throne. Ronan plays Mary, the Catholic queen of Scotland, ideologically and religiously opposed to Robbie's Protestant Queen Elizabeth I of England.
The film would like for them to be seen as independently despicable characters, although even in villainy, they require cunning men to pull their strings. This is quite the opposite of how The Favourite, a remarkably similar film - both in setting and style - chooses to portray its women.
The historical liberties taken by Mary Queen of Scots have already been discussed, and (rightly) criticised. But as someone with next to no knowledge about Scottish history - my education is largely restricted to the famously fraudulent Braveheart - I can say that being armed with information can only make the experience worse.
Because then, not only will you complain about the ridiculous drama, you will also exclaim in disbelief when the film suggests that the fate of England and Scotland was determined by a selfless act of cunnilingus. Even with my rudimentary knowledge, I can say that it wasn't.
Mary Queen of Scots has been described by debutante director Josie Rourke as 'a Renaissance version of Heat' - a description as broad as Willimon's feminism. Certainly, after keeping its two central characters apart for close to two hours, it ends with a verbal showdown that livens things up considerably. The scene catches Ronan and Robbie in top form, deftly one-upping each other - nowhere near as thrilling as Al Pacino and Robert De Niro's meetings in Heat, though - aided by the film's already excellent technical departments.
So when Ronan utters the resounding (and objectively inaccurate) words - "should you murder me, remember you murder your sister... and you murder your queen." - cinematographer John Mathieson's pillowy lighting accentuates the stunning makeup on her face, while composer Max Richter's violin adds to the emotional cacophony of the confrontation.
But despite what Rourke says, her film isn't the two-hander that Heat was. Robbie is restricted to a supporting role as the broadly villainous Elizabeth I, who does precious little other than pace about in her musty rooms and in one ghastly scene, survive small pox. Her character is more of a wildcard, unfortunately reminiscent - both visually and in the pitch of her performance - of Helena Bonham Carter's insane Red Queen from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.
Ronan is given the bulk of the screen time, a less cartoony character, and the luxury of being able to freely move about. She is more toned down, and her tendency to behave just as irrationally as her cousin is shrouded under a cloak of coolness.
Both Mary and Elizabeth are willing to go to shocking lengths to assert dominance over each other, including but not limited to sacrificing their minds and bodies to protect their honour.
And it is with this irony that Mary Queen of Scots reveals whatever point it is vaguely trying to make. The strength of its characters is shown in the passion with which they scheme, and the bond they develop in their mutual scepticism for their male advisors - I don't know if the film realises how counterproductive this is.
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