Mary Queen of Scots - 2018
Director(s): Josie Rourke
Writer(s): Beau Willimon (screenplay) / John Guy (book)
Cinematography by: John Mathieson
Editor(s): Chris Dickens
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Izuka Hoyle, David Tennant and Ian Hart
Europe’s' Royalty is a vast wealth of source material for any story you may want to do. The wars, the political maneuverings, the religious fanaticism, monarchs betraying each other to name a few, and that's why I've always been drawn to period pieces as they can often reflect our current society. Mary Queen of Scots is no exemption, as it showcases how women in power are often brought down by the men around them or pitted against each other in a battle that both lose in the long run. Let's talk about it.
The story takes place in 1569, centering around the conflict between Mary (Ronan), Queen of the Scots and her cousin Queen Elizabeth 1 (Robbie). Mary is the rightful heir to the throne, but her religion, past marriage, and libertarian beliefs create a divide between her and her cousin. Mary embarks on a series of political decisions that ultimately cost her her life while saving her son’s. I was very impressed by the structure of the script, and the ability it had to dispatch complex information without it always depending on expository dialogue. Willimon is a talented writer and has proven it through his years in House of Cards and with his debut with 2011's The Ides of March. Some scenes are comprised of only dialogue that felt more enthralling and fast-paced that many films that came out this year that claim to be in the action genre. Where the script shines is in the way they portray their female characters, strong, intelligent, loving, and willing to change with the times. They are contrasted and elevated by comparison, by the male characters, weak minded, greedy, static and threaten by the power of their female rulers. I did lose count of the amounts Mary was betrayed by her "people", and despite all of that she still held to her values and the love she had for Scotland.
As far as directorial debuts, Josie Rourke knocked hers out of the park. While it is not receiving the praise as many of her fellow directors, fame plays a big part, hers is one of my favorites of the year. The story flowed well despite the complexity of the betrayals and the plots and the romances and I never felt the film slowed down as the two hours flew by. Bringing on John Mathieson (Gladiator, Logan and 55 other credits) was a wise choice. The cinematography along with the costume designed lead to eye-popping sequences that added beauty to an ultimately sad story of two women driven apart by the powers behind the throne.
Quick note: I did find the score a bit lacking, as the music does not elevate the visuals and the weight of the consequences of the events unfolding before us.
It is a weird statement to say that an actor that has been nominated three times at the Oscars is underrated and often forgotten when cinephiles discuss best actors working today. I fully believe that Saoirse Ronan has quickly racked up a resume any actor would envy in her short time in Hollywood. She embodied Mary and all her values, managing to be both loving and strong all within the same scene. While they don't share that much screen time, the one scene Ronan and Robbie have together is the highlight of the entire film as they put on an acting class that ties a bow around the themes and conflicts showcased throughout the film. While I opened this paragraph praising Ronan, Robbie's recent performances, including this one, has proven that her acting range is far greater than people gave her credit for when she broke through with her performance in The Wolf of Wall Street. This film belongs to them, and they should be in talks for more nominations come award season.
Quick note: I did see that the critic and audience score is hovering close to the 60% on Rotten, and I can see why a story so grounded in history and monarchs can turn off some people. I for one love this kind of stories.
Mary Queen of Scots is an excellent look at how despite having all the power in the world (on paper), these two queens were prisoners of the system that surrounded them. While these events take place four hundred and forty-nine years ago, the way man manipulated the public perception of the women in power still resonates with our times, especially with the societal expectation of motherhood of a woman of a certain age. The story is elevated by two incredible performances from two actors that are hitting on all cylinders, in the hands of a very talented director, making it a great entry in the genre. It is worth a watch, especially if you enjoy period pieces. Ronan is why I love movies.
Mary Queen of Scots is currently playing in theaters. Solid matinee movie or a streamer.
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