Review: Mary Queen of Scots
Okay so it’s been a really long time since I last posted on here and I feel like such a slacker, but in my defence I have been dealing with University and job applications for what feels like forever. I was meant to review Mary Poppins Returns two weeks ago but I got completely sidetracked and before I knew it I’d forgotten my opinion (which is kind of an opinion in itself). But now I am ready to pick up where I left off, with a review of Mary Queen of Scots. I watched this film last night and I wanna start off by saying that I really enjoyed it.
I will admit that it hasn’t had a particularly lasting effect on me and I can totally understand why it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but personally I was really engaged throughout the whole film and have a lot to say about it.
So firstly, the score was tremendous. It matched the stunning scenery of Scotland perfectly and was so transcendent that I often forgot it was present, which is a good thing, right?
This movie also heavily relied on sublime acting from a star studded cast. Saoirse Ronan gave an outstanding performance which I think should have been Oscar nominated. She didn’t just embody Mary in every way, she brought a new zest of life to the character. As a young woman myself, I really felt the passion behind every line of dialogue. Margot Robbie portrayed a very sympathetic Elizabeth and although I wouldn’t say this was her best performance, she was a very good supporting actress. Then there was David Tennant and his beard - what a legend. Overall it was great performances all round.
There's this really sad, underlying pity throughout the film for these brave, intelligent women that despite their best intentions, are at a loss in this world run by men. This is not only a feminist reflection on history, but a relevant lesson for today’s society.
Both Mary and Elizabeth were set up to fail. At least thats how I felt. There were obviously outraged characters like Tennant’s John Knox that preached outrage upon being ruled by a “strumpet”. But the misogynistic cage was much more internal and made me feel claustrophobic whilst empathising for the female leads. On the one hand, Mary requires a husband and son to further her power which results in tragedy and her spouse ultimately stating “You agreed to obey me” (forgive the paraphrasing.) On the other hand we have Elizabeth, who fears any intimate connection with a man because she is terrified of compromising her status. At one point she discloses “I am more man than woman now, the throne has made me so”. Is that just because she hasn’t married or given birth? Is that all that makes a woman? I find these viewpoints very interesting. Sadly, although they were born monarchs with a powerful status, the two queens were often made powerless by the system they were trapped in.
There is a lot of focus on script in this movie and I found that individual lines stuck with me as I left the cinema. As an example, Mary’s plea to Elizabeth “I know your heart has more within it than the men that council you” seemed to pretty much sum things up in my opinion. This film was also notably cinematic. Josie Rourke has a keen eye for the camera and created a lot of beautiful scenery using symbolism. One image that took me back, was the contrast between Mary holding her baby James with her legs apart and between them a lot of blood, contrasted with Elizabeth sitting alone on the floor with her legs apart and between them, an abundance of paper flowers. It was all just really beautiful.
The theme of duality is actually very strong throughout the movie. Rourke’s experience working within theatre is quite apparent in this directorial debut, especially when you look at the significance given to staging and costume etc.
Unfortunately, during what I assume was supposed to be the “climax”, that same theatrical effect was almost the film’s downfall. Mary meets Elizabeth in a room that is full of hanging white sheets. And I get it. Metaphorically I get it. The whole movie, these two characters refer to each other as ‘sister’ and though they have never met in person, they talk of each other fondly as though they are close. Now, in this scene of desperation on Mary’s part, they meet in the same room and and they realise they are the only ones that can understand what it feels like to be each other, yet they struggle to connect. But this visual separation using the white sheets is very meta, and very aware of itself as a figurative expression. To have this as the climax of a film that has been otherwise very authentic just seems out of place. Nonetheless I enjoyed the meaning there and thought the acting and dialogue was engaging enough. Without sacrificing charisma, both characters are portrayed as vulnerable and careful. However, another problem I had was that this scene contained arguably some of the most powerful dialogue in the whole film and it was the dialogue alone that made it even slightly resemble a climax. But, as with most movies these days, I had already heard all the good bits in the trailer. The intensity of the dialogue between Mary and Elizabeth when Mary says “I will not be scolded by my inferior” and Elizabeth in shock questions “your inferior?” Was kind of lost for me because I knew it was coming. I don’t know why trailers these days feel the need to contain all the best parts of a film but im not here for it.
In saying that, even without the trailer, this just wasn’t a very punchy climax. (How many more times can I say the word climax before it starts to get annoying? You're right. It's already annoying. ) My biggest problem with this film in general was that it felt like it was constantly building up to something that never really happened. But at the end of the day, this was a retelling of history so we can’t expect plot twists and too much dramatic action from it. This film was challenged with portraying these familiar characters in an engaging an unseen light which I think this film achieved, therefore I can forgive where it lacked in substance a little bit. Moreover, because this period piece is set over years of time, there was a lot of skipping forward. This is obviously
a good thing because otherwise the film would have gone on forever but unfortunately, this also meant sacrificing key events and relationships that were reduced to singular plot points and ultimately overlooked. Perhaps this story would be better told as a mini series? Also I didn’t see any ageing of characters except for the baby James (who, side-note, has the ugliest cry I’ve ever heard.)
Overall though, I really enjoyed this film for what it was and I think it brought life and excitement to a historic story, that was subsequently relevant for a modern audience. Though I won’t be raving about it for weeks to come, Mary Queen of Scots was for me, a really enjoyable cinematic experience and I do recommend you watch it if you like the look of the trailer.
I have linked that below: