Review: ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ complicates history

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Although this movie, directed by Josie Rourke, only has one royal figure in the title, it’s really about two: Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) and Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). Well, at least it claims to be about these two historical figures; one doesn’t have to do much research to find out that this biopic doesn’t seem like a keenly historical depiction of the royal courts and those who played in the courts.

For instance, the climax of the movie takes place when the two queens meet in person — an event that never happened, according to The Smithsonian Magazine. Likewise, while I’m not a historian, the placement of homosexuals and perhaps even crossdressers in Mary’s court, along with the fact that she embraces their peculiarities, doesn’t feel like something a reformation-era queen would’ve done.

Even if these depictions of the people in her court are realistic, the fact that the movie changes its tempo to move away from the main political dramas in order to zero in on the sexual orientations of the characters seems like a uniquely 21st century decision.

In the film’s depiction of the queens’ relationship, Mary Stuart wins over Queen Elizabeth I with her charisma, which, as Slate points out, we know this didn’t happen according to Elizabeth’s letters. That Stuart’s charms win over Elizabeth seems like a small part of the film trying to glorify Stuart, which also plays into the politically liberal nature of the film that is rather blatant; after all, Josie Rourke is a famous London theatre director.

However, if you seperate the historicity of Europe from the film itself, it’s not that bad. Margot Robbie, in a rather different role for her, is as emotional as we’ve ever seen her, and Saoirse Ronan has given us one of her most convincing performances, which says something since she already has three Oscar nominations at only 24. Although, the grand meeting felt anti-climatic on a basic storytelling front; the score didn’t increase the anxieties, but only distracted. The whole confrontation scene felt forced, perhaps because it was.

The period drama maybe a solid choice if you don’t care about history and can tolerate the rather slow pace of the film. At the very least, the two actresses entertain well enough.

Mary Queen of Scots premiered on Dec. 7.