Mary Queen of Scots is a plush but dull retelling, says Rashid Irani
If it’s worth a watch, it’s for Saoirse Rona, who is stunning as Stuart, and Margot Robbie, who makes an excellent Elizabeth.
A handsomely mounted but somewhat sluggish historical drama, Mary Queen of Scots recounts the oft-told tale of the fierce rivalry between these two royals in 16th-century England.
After a perfunctory prologue set in 1587, the film flashes back 26 years to find the recently widowed Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) back in her homeland, ruling over the Scots. Her return poses a threat to her cousin, the celibate Queen Elizabeth I of England (Margot Robbie). The young Mary, still a teenager, is determined to usurp the elder sovereign’s crown; she believes she has a legitimate claim to that throne as well.
Any attempts at peaceful co-existence are dashed by the machinations of political conspirators and religious groups in both camps. It doesn’t help that Elizabeth is a Protestant and childless, while Mary is Catholic and bears a son and heir in due course. Intrigue abounds. Railing against the latter’s calculated promiscuity, a Protestant cleric (David Tennant) labels her a polecat and a scourge upon royalty.
Director Josie Rourke, a stage veteran making her feature film debut, often plays fast and loose with history. A face-to-face confrontation between the two strong-willed women is staged though there is no record of such a meeting having taken place.
Taking over the roles immortalised by Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson in the 1971 biopic, Ronan and Robbie are perfectly cast. If only for their enthralling performances, the proto-feminist Mary Queen of Scots is worth a watch.