WITH the first scene depicting Mary (Saoirse Ronan) stepping up to the chopping block, Mary Queen of Scots’ audiences are aware her life ended in an execution ordered by her cousin Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie).
What the film portrays are the different ways in which the two queens handle their power and in a world dominated by men anti women in charge.
Mary is just 18 years old and already a widow when she takes the Scottish throne as per her birthright, fresh off the boat from France where she grew up.
Elizabeth is enjoying her power, refusing to risk losing it by marrying, at her advisors request, even if it means forgoing having a child.
As a Stuart, Mary has a claim to the English throne and wants Elizabeth to name her as her successor.
Elizabeth’s refusal to do this instigates a power struggle between the two young women.
The film is resplendent in stunning architectural-style costumes and hairpieces, surrounded by black-clad men attempting to manipulate each queen to their advantage.
Compacting sevens years of complicated politics makes the film not always easy to follow, especially when the information is often conveyed via conversations in darkened rooms, not necessarily that entertaining.
The whole film leads to the final meeting between Mary and Elizabeth, one of the more compelling scenes as the women have an emotionally charged confrontation in a remote cottage, with much fluttering of linen cloths preventing them from coming face-to-face until the last moment.
In reality, there is no historical evidence the meeting took place, which throws doubt over other moments in the film.
Is each scene an interpretation of the facts or made up to manipulate the audience to feel a certain way about these historical figures?
The film goes to great lengths to make Mary appear open-minded but it feels forced, as though pandering to modern tastes.
Another focus is Elizabeth’s desire to be a mother despite her self-inflicted childlessness, effectively altering the strong character she is noted as in the history books.
Well acted and stunning to look at, Mary Queen of Scots attempts to investigate what it means to be a woman in power while simultaneously wanting to be an action-packed romp, but doesn’t manage to do either.
Mary Queen of Scots (MA)
Directed by: Josie O’Rourke
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce
Review by Lucy Rutherford
In cinemas now