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Mary Queen of Scots Movie Review: This Story of Powerless Queens Makes No Sense in Today’s World

By: Sneha Bengani


Last Updated: February 01, 2019, 09:55 IST

Mary Queen of Scots Movie Review: This Story of Powerless Queens Makes No Sense in Today’s World

Mary Queen of Scots has bagged two Oscar nods—one for makeup and hairstyling, the other for costume design.

Mary Queen of Scots

Director: Josie Rourke

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Joe Alwyn, Jack Lowden


It is understandable why theatre veteran Josie Rourke would choose two of the most towering figures of the English and Scottish empires as the subject of her debut feature film. The lives and times of Mary Stuart (Queen of Scotland) and Elizabeth I (Queen of England) offer rich material—there is drama, bigotry, treachery, sex, conspiracies, plush costumes, kingly courtrooms and at the heart of it all two women related by blood but divided by ambition.


The stage is all set, but unfortunately, the story never really takes off, even after being headlined by two terrific Academy Award nominated actors—Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. It’s astonishing how remarkably Mary Queen of Scots takes it all—the exquisite history of its characters, the chilling royal conflict, the subliminal acting prowess of its actors—and reduces it to nothing.


What’s worse is that it spends its 125-minute runtime in showing two women fighting for power they cannot exercise. They have the crown but not much else. In spite of the film’s many failings, its real defeat is its portraying two of the most important and powerful queens in British history as mere puppets in the hands of their scheming courtiers.


At a time when women are breaking ground across the globe, Mary Queen of Scots takes us behind by centuries. Not just in its sexist depiction of its lead women but also in its archaic notions of man and womanhood. It hurts to see Robbie’s Elizabeth equate power and ambition with masculinity. She actually says in the film that she is so used to being a sovereign that she has no femininity left in her. Mary Queen of Scots is replete with such blatant gender stereotyping.


In its bright, vibrant costumes, stately sets and the way it distorts historical facts (for one, the two queens never met in real life), this period drama reminds a lot of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 2018 film Padmaavat. Also in the way it demonises one ruler to glorify the other—the film makes a madwoman out of Robbie’s Elizabeth. She is either quilling flowers or tending horses when not plotting how to keep Ronan’s Mary away from her throne.


In its love for sex, gore, murder and lust for the throne, the movie feels inspired from HBO’s blockbuster fantasy series Game of Thrones. Only that this one is slow, uninspiring and messy.


Ronan does her best to lift Mary Queen of Scots with her atypical charisma but it is Robbie who shines in this bleak film. Although her role is insignificant compared to Ronan’s, she is the only character in the film that isn’t completely unfeeling. She makes you root for her. You want to watch her more. Sadly, you don’t.


If you are aware of Mary and Elizabeth’s stories, you’d be offended at how the film randomly picks episodes from their lives without providing enough context and how jarringly it jumps on to the next. If you’re not, you’d be confused because not much makes sense. For instance, in one scene, Mary is asking for protection from her cousin, which a tearful Elizabeth agrees to. Two scenes later, Mary is being beheaded.


The film reduces genuine rivalry between two queens into a tawdry, sentimental soap opera. At worst, Mary Queen of Scots—a prestige project released ahead of the awards season—is waste of time. At best…Wait. There is no best.

Rating: 1.5/5

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first published:February 01, 2019, 09:55 IST
last updated:February 01, 2019, 09:55 IST
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