Mary Queen of Scots is one of the finest historical dramas in recent times. Combining the historical contexts with several modern issues in a genius way, it stands out as a film that fiercely declares that Queens can be just as good, if not better, than Kings.

All of this is achieved through the outstanding performances from both Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I, and Saoirse Ronan as the titular character Mary Stuart. Ronan is especially wonderful, playing a young but confidant Mary who will not allow the men in her life to control her. The two women never meet until the end, yet their interactions and the ways in which they affect one another’s lives create some of the best moments of the film. Neither woman is heroine or villain, and this dynamic is a refreshing one. While it could be argued that the film plays with historical accuracy, their meeting is genuinely surprising in the best kinds of ways.

It cannot go without saying that the cinematography and imagery is outstanding. Cinematographer John Mathieson and Director Josie Rourke have done a fantastic job making Scotland become its own character, and an isle worth fighting for. There is also a very strong image after the birth of James I which reflects brilliantly the roles in which the two Queens have in their different nations. Themes of motherhood, power and control are all present, and the role which men play in the courts of two women makes for dynamic watching.

Ronan and Robbie are joined by an excellent supporting cast. Everyone’s favourite Scot David Tennant portrays the misogynistic John Knox, and often steals scenes with speeches to his congregation, denouncing the Catholic and female Mary. Mary and Elizabeth’s femininity in a world primarily led by men becomes a central and incredibly engaging theme. Performances from Guy Pearce as Elizabeth’s confidant William Cecil and Jack Lowden as Lord Darnley, Mary’s husband, subvert this femininity well. Elizabeth even remarks that Cecil is “the closest thing I shall ever have to a wife”. The film takes place in the earlier portions of Mary’s reign, but this allows us to see a young woman finding her place as Queen of the nation and taking charge against all opposition. Mary, by all standards, becomes a feminist icon.  

Overall, Mary Queen of Scots is a film that isn’t always what you expect. It’s an engaging character study of the Scottish Queen, while also mirroring her with Elizabeth and her struggles to create a legacy for the throne. Ronan and Robbie dominate both the screen and their royal courts and create a must watch film for history and cinema fans alike.

4 stars
Image credit: Movie DB

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