Thursday 17 January 2019

Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots

There's something about Mary in this so-so historical drama starring Saorise Ronan and Margot Robbie.

Charting a famous 16th century chapter etched in the shared history of England and Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots sees Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie shine as two rival rulers surrounded by treachery and suspicion.

The film frames itself as a 'tale of two queens' who are swimming upstream in a uncompromising man's world. Mary (Ronan), still just a girl of 18 at the film's start, is a stranger to most in Scotland's court, and her forgiving nature is at odds with the men who surround her.

The same can be said of Elizabeth I (Robbie), who is better versed at ruling but no less questioned by her male advisors. The frustrations of figures like Lord Randolph (Adrian Lester) and William Cecil (Guy Pearce) are whispered in the shadows ("How did the world get to this – men servicing the whims of women?"), with the labyrinth of overlapping motives, families and backroom deals evoking Game of Thrones' early seasons.

It's here, at the lazy Game of Thrones comparison, that Mary Queen of Scots' shortcomings come to the fore. Stretching several decades and a sprawling cast with lots of interlocking parts, I can't help but feel like this film overreached just a jot.

Mary Queen of Scots has a lot of ground to cover in a smidge over two hours, and key figures such as Mary's shady brother James (James McArdle) would seem less like a plot device and more like an actual character if they had more room to move amidst the political intrigue, much like Game of Thrones. As a lengthier prestige miniseries, this story could have all the makings of something special; instead, it employs some creaky dialogue and broad characters as a short-hand to hurry things along.

That said, there is a lot to celebrate in this film. Ronan and Robbie are a powerful lead duo who admirably give it all they've got; Ronan, afforded so much of the movie's heaviest emotional beats, is a tour de force.

Robbie, who only shares one scene opposite Ronan, is also good as Elizabeth, but is made to work a lot harder underneath layers of makeup, prosthetics and an odd wig.

On top of that, Max Richter's score mercifully opts for a cinematic orchestral suite over incessant bagpipes. It pairs well with the sweeping Scottish landscapes and gloomy castle hallways without reverting to a grating pastiche.

The Verdict: 6/10

A film about two competing monarchs filled with political intrigue and deception should be an easy sell, and Mary Queen of Scots goes to great lengths to further entice a younger audience by positing its title character as a woke 'yaas queen' warrior.

However, it never quite matches its ambition with execution, and the end result stops short of greatness by reverting to crusty, conventional period drama territory, which feels quite trite when The Favourite is playing in the theatre just next door.

Mary Queen of Scots is in cinemas across Australia now.

1 comment:

  1. I'm kind of with you on this. I liked it, but it wasn't great. I did really enjoy Ronan and Robbie though.



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