May 26 2020
‘Mary Queen of Scots’ review: Queens in a man’s world
04 February 2019

Mary Queen of Scots is an all too familiar period film propelled only by its strong feminist focus

At one point in Mary Queen of Scots, a Protestant cleric named John Knox (David Tennant) says a woman with a crown is worse than pestilence. During the course of several incendiary speeches, he calls the Catholic Queen Mary (Saoirse Ronan), a harlot, whore, adulterer and other choice words. Scotland, in all of Knox’s wise wisdom deserves a Protestant ruler, one that’s preferably male. His spewed vitriol achieves its desired effect on the audience: seething rage. Poor Mary is double-crossed by everyone she thought was trustworthy. Even when she outfoxes those out to usurp her crown, the Catholic queen is ruthlessly shoved back to square one – a place with little power and even less hope. In her bid to almost beatify this controversial historical monarch, director Josie Rourke sometimes runs amok with her interpretation of history. Additionally, Beau Willimon’s skewed screenplay loses its cinematic grip and inevitably dissuades viewers. For instance, one of Mary’s subjects is portrayed as homosexual when he was in reality he was accused of fathering her son.

On the other hand, in England, the virgin Queen Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) – who in the end declares herself to be more man than woman – remains unmarried to protect her crown. Yet, she’s surrounded by men, some malicious and others ambitious, all of whom attempt to control her. Rourke crafts a cinematic universe that compels viewers to empathise with the two leads.

It’s evident the director has chosen a relevant angle that will elicit interest and possibly award nominations. There’s a singular focus to showcase two strong reigning queens who cannot effectively rule as they are trapped in a man’s world. It’s a nifty way to achieve resonance, and despite becoming aware of the emotional manipulation early on, Rourke still manages to lasso in her viewers. As Mary, Saoirse Ronan not only proves her range but convinces all of her unrelenting love for Scotland and her people. Her steadfast performance is only rivalled by Margot Robbie as the neurotic English monarch damaged by her insecurities but unwavering on the surface.

In the end, Mary Queen of Scots is neither faithful to fact nor wildly fictional. It’s just a brilliant depiction of two women surviving patriarchy in a period film.



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