Thursday, 21 February 2019

Mary Queen of Scots ★★★☆☆

It’s 1561, and the UK has a situation of two Queens– Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie), and Mary Queen of Scots (Saoirse Ronan), ready to take up her throne following her husband’s death. Times are interesting for the Royals right now – with Elizabeth unwilling to produce an heir, Mary wants to take the opportunity up herself, although not under any political pretence. Tensions grow as the religious tensions between the two divide the countries, and both Queens have to fight for their crowns against unwilling councils and meddling subjects – for Elizabeth, she struggles to retain her virginity and lack of heir, whilst Mary has increasingly defiant population on her hands, ready to remove her from the throne.

Whilst the story is interesting enough, it didn’t grip me like previous historical dramas have done, as it just wasn’t conveyed in a highly compelling way. Some scenes were excellent, such as a particularly traumatic death within the middle of the film that was acted so well it was quite distressing to watch, but other scenes weren’t delivered with as much strength – discussions in the council and battle scenes in the wilds just didn’t hold my attention so much. I found the plot quite difficult to follow during these scenes but this may not be the case for those of you that are familiar with the life of Mary Queen of Scots (I admit wholeheartedly that my History lessons in school were spent doing anything but learning about history).

On the plus side, the cinematography was beautiful, featuring rolling British landscapes, and the costume design, particularly for Elizabeth, really stood out. The acting was also very good, and I particularly enjoyed David Tennant’s role as the angry and determined cleric John Knox, although it did take a while for me to recognise him with so much facial hair. It was the two Queens that really stood out though, with both Ronan and Robbie give excellent performances as Mary and Elizabeth respectively. Ronan nails the stubborn and strong-willed Scottish Queen and Robbie shines at showing two different sides to the famous English one – her regal and stony side, but also the turmoil of emotions hidden away beneath the cracks.

Seeing everything through the eyes of the women in power is interesting as it reveals how both of them are threatened by the men around them, but in a way it seems to colour them too much – we see their faults, very clearly, yet somehow they are still painted as almost a higher level of being than everyone else. Feminist ideals are spoken through both of them (Elizabeth describes herself as “a man”, and Mary is highly tolerant of her gender non-conforming friend David Rizzio (Ismael Cruz Córdova), describing him as a “sister” to her – while these are good messages to portray, I wonder whether they were entirely accurate beliefs considering the time it all happened, or if they were embellished simply to appeal to a more progressive audience. The inclusion of non-white actors and actresses was a very good move, given that they are often excluded from such films despite being likely to have been present in those times, but I felt the feminist agendas (Mary’s, in particular) were a little bit too focused upon. Progressiveness is important, but so is understanding the differences between the times.

Talking of embellishments, there were a few historical accuracies involved – the film was overly sexed-up as historical dramas usually are and there’s a fair amount of artistic license, such as a fabricated meeting between the two queens later on in the story. This may or may not be an issue, depending on how important it is for you for the story to be accurate.

There’s still a lot to appreciate with ‘Mary Queen of Scots’, and it’s one of those films that is very subjective in its response from the audience (which I find is often the case with the genre – some people love a creative and artistic portrayal of the past, while others prefer something with more truth within it). Despite its flaws, it’s still a good film – just not the stand-out piece of cinema it perhaps had hoped to have been. 

Hannah Read

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