The story of Mary Queen of Scots initially sounds riveting: Mary, smuggled from France, arrives back home, ready to claim the throne of both Scotland and England. Hereby, she threatens the Queen of England Elizabeth’s position of power. Both are strong women, with tumultuous relationships with men, trying to fight for respect. On paper, you would assume this could only result in an exciting, interesting film. Unfortunately, the opposite is true, as Mary Queen of Scots turns out to be incredibly disappointing.
With an Oscar-nominated cast consisting of Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, the incredibly beautiful settings and interesting characters, it is seemingly easy to make a good film. However, first-time film director Josie Rourke manages to do the opposite. Her theatre background – as the artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse in London – shines through in every shot, with predictable framing and a static camera which is never used in any creative way.
The screenplay is also a letdown. It manages to make two powerful women, into characters that are incredibly one-dimensional. None of the characters are given any development. Lord Darnley (played by Jack Lowden), Mary’s second husband, for example, goes from a charismatic, loving man to a cheating, alcoholic all in the space of a single scene. Queen Elizabeth does nothing more than cry in the majority of her story, and even Margot Robbie’s acting can’t make it more enjoyable to watch. And, although I always champion diversity in films, the gender-neutral Rizzio feels like a forced token of diversity rather than a complex character in their own right.
One of the few highlights of the film is Saoirse Ronan, who delivers a standout performance as Mary Stuart. Although her French lines are far from perfect, the rest of her work is yet more proof that Ronan is one of the best actors of her generation, and manages to make a bad film, somewhat watchable. Also noteworthy are the beautiful costumes, that have rightfully received an Oscar nomination.
All in all, Mary Queen of Scots is a film that could have broken all the rules but instead, delivers nothing new and all we are left with is an extremely forgettable film that feels like a waste of time. We would suggest to go watch The Favourite instead.
REELculture. rating: 2 stars
Photo credit: FOCUS FEATURES