Film Review: Mary, Queen of Scots

When discussing a film like Mary Queen of Scots, the subject of historical validity inevitably comes to the forefront. Much has been said about the representations of figures within the film, but this, however, is the least of the film’s worries.

From the perspectives of performance and cinematography, the film is undoubtedly a triumph. Shots of the landscape and Mary’s victorious armies marching through the highlands evoke memories of Kubrick’s Spartacus. Unlike that film, it’s doubtful that this one will stand the test of time. For those not up to speed with historical events, the film does drag in certain places and provides little characters of sympathy throughout the proceedings.

Certain casting choices inaugurate the raising of eyebrows for various reasons. Where Margot Robbie’s Elizabeth is concerned, her very understated portrayal and limited screen time makes us wonder what is the point of having such an esteemed actress in so small a part. The most questionable casting choice is Gemma Chan as the locally renowned and significant figure, Bess of Hardwick. Her role as one of the most powerful women of her day is sidelined, and what little dialogue she does have is delivered so woodenly it’s entirely forgettable.

Now to address the elephant in the room, or rather the Elizabeth and Mary in the room. The scene where the two characters meet, in contrast to what is historically agreed upon, is emotionally unengaging and too stage-like for cinema. Worst of all, it adds little to the story since their distant relationship is not built enough to justify a meeting between them at the end. Making historical figures who never met come together for dramatic purposes can enhance the storyline. Films like 1966’s Khartoum, and even the original 1971 Mary, Queen of Scots show this to be the case.

Overall, the film manages to be a success, albeit a highly flawed one. A solid enough historical drama when all is balanced out, but better ones exist and better ones will doubtlessly be made in the future.


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