“You murder your sister – and you murder your Queen” exclaims a seemingly vengeful Mary Stuart (played here by Saoirse Ronan) in the trailer for the new film from Working Title and director Josie Rourke, setting the scene that tensions of power and dynamics are at play here. For Stewart, back to lead Scotland after her time in France, she wants to utilise her standing for good of her people. Down South, Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) heard of her return and with many forces at play – including the threat of war with her supposed allies, sets upon a course of action from her loyal advisers that will bring much conflict if the path continues to be trodden. Will the Queen’s lust for power be their downfall, or are both being misled at the behest of the men who surround them?
Rourke, who has made her name in the theatre, brings a lot of that same energy and rawness to the film particularly in some very heated exchanges throughout that are laced with intrigue. Wonderfully shot by John Mathieson, who brings the beauty of the misty Scottish Highlands to the fore with impeccable clarity, their combination adds another dimension to an already layered film. Then there’s Beau Willimon taut script which allows the story to blossom, layered and always intriguing, even if it is surrounded in controversy thus far given his historical liberties taken and somewhat diluting both the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth and the ladies themselves, with a lot unsaid. As a piece of drama, though, it works and works well.
The dynamic duo at the top are Ronan and Robbie who, as you can no doubt guess, are as outstanding and magnetic as ever, producing some of their best work today. With the project for the past five or six years through its development, you can certainly see the appeal for Ronan to take on Mary – feisty, mesmeric and supremely confident, it’s a character that’s as much her own woman as she is something of a reflection of Ronan’s achievements right now, suffice it to say she is almost untouchable in this phase of her career.
The same, too, could be said about Robbie though the ill-fated and misjudged Terminal earlier this year was a bit of a blot, while some would point to Suicide Squad too much let’s face it, she was the best (and only) good thing in the entire misfire. Still, here she’s a brilliant foil for Ronan and while their meeting on screen is, as aforementioned, controversial it’s certainly the stand-out moment of the film.
There are some saggy bits that could have been trimmed – David Tennant‘s John Knox, a notorious preacher of the time, for example, is more hindrance than helpful – but for the most part, Mary Queen of Scots is a stirring, timely drama that showcases two powerhouse central performances that help elevate it above the norm.
Scott J.Davis | [rating=4]
Drama, History | UK, 2018 | 15 | 18th January 2019 (UK) | Universal Pictures | Dir.Josie Rourke | Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Guy Pearce, Adrian Lester, David Tennant