Mary, Queen of Scots Review – Gripping Historical Drama Filled with Betrayal, Rebellions, Lust and Conspiracy

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Mary, Queen of Scots, from Focus Features, presents the turbulent lives of Mary Stuart as she attempts to regain respect, authority while facing her rival Elizabeth I, both encounter betrayals, rebellions, and conspiracies endangering both thrones.

Directed by Josie Rourke, Mary, Queen of Scots stars Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, Gemma Chan, Martin Compston, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Brendan Coyle, Ian Hart, Adrian Lester, James McArdle, with David Tennant, and Guy Pearce. Adapted for the screen by Beau Willimon, based on Queen of Scots: the True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy.

The film begins with a brief overview of the times, explaining the past events. Mary Stuart, played by Saoirse Ronan, had been Queen of France at 16, and widowed by 18. Instead of staying in France she returns to her homeland to reclaim her right to the throne.


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Separated by religious beliefs, as Elizabeth I, played by Margot Robbie, is protestant and Mary, Catholic, the cousins are fueled and pitted against each other by the counselors who determine the mind, mood, thinking, message and motive of every spoken and unspoken gesture, word, and action, of the two strong willed and determined women.

Protected by Lord Bothwell, played by Martin Comstock, Mary arrives at her home, greeted by her brother, James, Earl of Moray, she fiercely independent, and fighting the stigmas of gender, beauty, and intelligence, she rules first with a heavy hand demanding allegiance, loyalty and fidelity.

As the counselors gain forces war and threats to the sovereignty of each become the rule of the day. Using the church to circumvent the mind of the people, the local minister, John Knox, played by David Tennent, embarks on a slanderous campaign undermining Mary’s right to rule calling her a whore, adulterer, carrying a bastard child, essentially inflaming the people’s consciousness until they refuse to believe what they see instead believing what they hear.

The envoys travel from England to Scotland and back with messages from Elizabeth I, and back then with Mary, Queen of Scots response. The men feel emasculated as the women refuse the “right” advise instead defining their reign by their own wisdom, female monarchs in a masculine world, the two must decide how to play the game of marriage versus independence.

Rivals in power and in love, Mary, is told by Elizabeth she must marry and provides a suitable match, her own lover, Robert Dudley, played by Joe Alwyn, one that allows Elizabeth to rule through him.


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Determined to rule as much more than a figurehead, Mary asserts her claim to the English throne, threatening Elizabeth’s sovereignty. She marries a man of her choosing, Henry Darnley, played by Jack Lowden. The marriage is threatened immediately and she quickly moves to ensures the union produces an heir.

With heir, assurances from Elizabeth to serve as the Godmother, a belief her brother will guard his life and the rightful heir to the throne, a coup d’etat presented itself, again fueled by the power hungry, men, who believe power is only achieved by violence, a heavy hand, and the trophies of the dead.

Mary becomes outwitted in her own game by trusting one who appeared loyal, above approach and would kill on order.

I really liked this film. It started off slow for me, as it begins with the ending, and then loops back to the beginning and we see how events that held such promise ended with so badly. The ending is historical and known so essentially the director is not giving away key points.

Mary, Queen of Scots, is an historical drama, with little creative license the film is based on the events as historically they are recorded. The film sets the tone of the times well. No detail has been overlooked and the feel of life in the Elizabethan Age is clear.


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Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie are captivating and their performances riveting as they conquer their respective roles. We are drawn by the beauty of one and not distracted by the beauty of the other. Seeing Ms. Robbie devoid of her beauty is surprising and she takes it a step further, embracing nature’s challenges the character faced, the audience sees her in her rawest performance.

It is an gripping tale of battles and rebellions, betrayals and backbiting, circumventing conspiracies within each court endanger both thrones and change the course of history. The film is engrossing and once drawn in captures.

Mary, Queen of Scots opens in select cities December 7, 2018. See it.

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