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Movie Review: ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ Ponders So Many Questions About Who Belongs on the Throne

CREDIT: Liam Daniel/Focus Features

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, Guy Pearce

Director: Josie Rourke

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Rating: R for A Surprisingly Horny Approach to the Material and the Violent Retribution That Results

Release Date: December 7, 2018 (Limited)

If you’re an anglophile who loves tracking all historical matters of royal succession, then you ought to add Mary Queen of Scots to your to-watch list. But if you’re more ambivalent on the subject, this film is likely to instead get you frustrated and shout at the 16th century to move ahead hundreds of years when questions of leadership have less to do with the intricacies of bloodlines. Of course, 21st century politics has its own problems, but Mary Queen of Scots feels obsessed with the minutiae of what was specific to a bygone era. There is some intriguing conflict to be had, as Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and her cousin Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) both apparently have legitimate claims to the English throne. The internal psychological drama and external tension of impatient courts and citizenry are present, but the same points keep getting pounded over and over.

Part of the problem is the film’s lopsided structure. It makes sense that the title is what it is and not “Mary & Elizabeth,” as this is at least two-thirds Mary’s story, if not more. Perhaps there is an element of correcting the historical record, or the cinematic historical world, as Elizabeth’s story has hitherto been told more often than Mary’s. But if that’s the case, then you might as well go whole hog into Mary’s realm and render Elizabeth more or less heard but not seen. As it stands, though, it makes me wonder, “Why can’t they both be queen?” Alas, for the sake of the narrative (and historical accuracy), that’s probably too pat and conflict-free. But it’s almost all worth it for the scene when Mary and Elizabeth finally meet in person. Ridiculous measures are taken to keep this meeting “secret,” thus fulfilling a promise to really examine the nonsense inherent to this state of affairs. It’s all silly, and should be treated as such, instead of resorting to beheadings.

Mary Queen of Scots is Recommended If You Like: Any and all royal British period piece

Grade: 3 out of 5 Heirs

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