Entertainment » Movies

Mary Queen Of Scots

by Frank J. Avella
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Dec 7, 2018
'Mary Queen of Scots'
'Mary Queen of Scots'  

There have been many depictions of the character of Mary Stuart in all mediums, most notably Charles Jarrott's Oscar-nominated film "Mary, Queen of Scots," starring the formidable actors Glenda Jackson and Vanessa Redgrave as Elizabeth and Mary, respectively (two actors who are still dazzling audiences on the stage in their 80s, it's worth noting). That 1971 incarnation was far from perfect, but the performances were damn close. (The CW has recently given us the teen-friendly revisionist-history soap, "Reign.")

Any new version would need actors that match those two legends as well as a retelling that will bring something new to the oft-told story of these two titanic queens caught up in a political and religious rivalry not of their own making.

Josie Rourke's "Mary Queen of Scots" (no comma) arguably does both, yet still fails to truly ignite the way it should. That doesn't mean it isn't a worthy effort, and it certainly has some powerful moments, particularly when stars Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie finally share the screen together, but the screenplay does too little in the first hour and then relentlessly goes for broke in the second half.

The uneven script, by "House of Cards" creator Beau Willimon, is adapted from John Guy's novel, "Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart," and is riddled with just the right amount of anxiety and paranoia due powerhouse monarchs. And the film certainly begins with all the bombast and pomp expected for an historical period piece.

But, right away, Elizabeth is done a terrible disservice by remaining a barely secondary character in the piece while Willimon's script wastes time with the varying men attempting to sway both Queens — especially Mary.

Perhaps the filmmakers felt the figure of Elizabeth has been given enough due in many other films, especially "Elizabeth" and "Elizabeth: The Golden Age." But in diminishing the potency of this truly legendary historic figure, they seem to want to sway sympathies too early. Elizabeth journeys from uncertainty to executioner, but the film gives us too much of the former. And her appearance! The distracting fake nose, silly wig and pockmarks are a bit extreme. Robbie does manage a fascinating performance, even when the dialogue and makeup works against her.

As for Ronan, she's spirited and does her best.

Late in the film, Mary proclaims, "All I have done is try to unify this land," which prompted me up to wonder, when exactly was she doing that? She was too busy dealing with the politics of men in and out of the bedroom to ever actually think about her subjects, certainly in Willimon's disjointed narrative. His Mary is much less obsessed with herself, as a Catholic as she is, trying to maneuver her own succession via the many male forces that might help or harm her chances of survival.

Both figures are at the mercy of misguided men, making this a perfect #MeToo tale of just how impossible it's always been for women — even women with divinely anointed power. And when that is examined, it gives "Mary" the heft it deserves.

But it's telling that one of the most compelling characters in the film is Mary's gay husband, Henry, played in a refreshingly honest manner by Jack Lowden. Henry's story is told with great sensitivity and nuance, and he is often more interesting than the two queens.

I do want to bring up one major, unforgivable issue I have with this film. In 2018 is it still supposed to be acceptable to watch every queer character die in some gruesome manner? It would be one thing if the film boasted many horrific deaths. But there were only three. And all three were queer. It made me think back to that lovely (read: sarcasm) scene in "Braveheart," where the Prince's lover is delightfully tossed out the window. Shame on Rourke and Willimon!

It's also worth mentioning that "Mary Queen of Scots" lacks the daring and originality of another female-driven monarch film this season, "The Favourite," which is a shame because the brief but potent scene between Robbie and Ronan proves all the ingredients were there and ripe for a new and exciting "Mary." Rourke should have tossed out the wonky script and simply kept the camera on her two leads for two hours.

Mary Queen of Scots

Celebrity biographer Lee Israel makes her living profiling the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estee Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. When Lee is no longer able to get published because she has fallen out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception, abetted by her loyal friend Jack.


Runtime :: 124 mins
Release Date :: Dec 21, 2018
Language :: Silent
Country :: United Kingdom

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He is also a proud Dramatists Guild member and a recipient of a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded a 2015 Fellowship Award from the NJ State Council on the Arts, the 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and the Chesley/Bumbalo Foundation Playwright Award for his play Consent, which was also a 2012 semifinalist for the O'Neill. His play, Vatican Falls, took part in the 2017 Planet Connections Festivity and Frank was nominated for Outstanding Playwriting. Lured was a semifinalist for the 2018 O'Neill and received a 2018 Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Grant. Lured will premiere in 2018 in NYC and 2019 in Rome, Italy. LuredThePlay.com


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