Returning to Scotland in 1561, following the death of her husband, eighteen-year-old Mary (Saoirse Ronan) reclaims her rightful throne, settling into her role as Catholic Queen of Scotland.
In neighbouring England, Mary’s cousin and Protestant Queen Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) is unmarried, childless and intimidated by the beauty, bravery and boldness of her fellow sovereign. Ensuring her throne and right to rule is not weakened, Elizabeth arranges for her own lover, Robert Dudley (Joe Alwyn), to propose to Mary in a bid to protect her sovereignty and diminish any chances of her cousin becoming queen of both England and Scotland. Having refused Elizabeth’s offer, Mary falls foul to Lord Darnley of Scotland (Jack Lowden); a man fuelled by rage and alcohol who has been secretly sent to Scotland from England, under the pretence that he is seeking religious freedom.
A whirlwind of infidelity, betrayal and loss follows the decisions that both queens make to ensure their lands are kept peaceful, free from civil war and hatred that has manifested itself throughout the heart of Britain. Fleeing from the destruction and deceit that is slowly weaving through her land, Mary finally comes face-to-face with Elizabeth, Queen of England. During a sensational stand-off, both queens are forced to admit their helpless situations and dire need for unity, common ground and respect.
An enjoyable yet chaotic film, the action peaks and falters during pivotal historic moments. War scenes, death, and multiple physical combat scenes are sprinkled throughout the film, often aiding dense moments of conversation and providing relief from the dark and increasingly tragic events that perpetuate the film.
The characters make and simultaneously break this film; some being highly relevant and enjoyable to watch, others simply a nuisance and unrelated to the action in numerous ways. Take Lord Darnley, for example – a man heavily reliant on alcohol, he uses what little power and authority he has to beat his wife, make multiple enemies (including his own father) and single-handedly manages to get a man killed for his homosexuality whilst being seemingly unsure of his own. A pleasure to watch? Perhaps not.
With that said, Robbie and Ronan’s portrayal of their respective queens demonstrated a bond defined by strong womanhood, strength and overcoming every obstacle put in their way. From religion to ruling the breadth of Britain, their performances as two of Britain’s most famous queens are fresh and captivating to watch. Hitting the mark on her Scottish accent, Ronan presents a fiery and relentless young woman, basking in the power bestowed upon her, whilst Robbie draws sympathy from viewers for her performance as a smallpox-ridden, unmarried queen, longing for a child of her own. The strong supporting cast also includes Gemma Chan, David Tennant, Adrian Lester, Brendan Coyle and Guy Pearce.
Overall, a watchable and engaging piece of history, chronicling the turbulent lives and fractured relationship of two queens, bound by blood, sovereignty and power. However, despite a strong cast and headstrong central leads, Mary Queen of Scots, doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Words by Paige Bradshaw