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‘Mary Queen of Scots’ brings history alive (review)

December 21, 2018

‘Mary Queen of Scots’ brings history alive (review)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – “Mary Queen of Scots” is an epic historical biopic about the relationship and conflicts between Queen Mary of Scotland and Queen Elizabeth I n of England and Ireland, set in 1569.

“It” girls of the current cinema Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”) and Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”) plays the queens, respectively. Both do their imperial roles justice and then some.

When the movie opens, Mary Stuart is returning from France to take her throne in Scotland. The fact that she is a Catholic sends chills of fright through both England, with Protestant Elizabeth and her team of noblemen counselors, and Scotland, where Protestant cleric John Knox, played by David Tennant (“Dr. Who”), wields considerable influence with the general populace.

The initial correspondence between the royals is cordial and even mutually supportive. They talk of being “sisters” and ruling in joint harmony. But eventually the men in both courts find ways to drive a wedge so deeply between them as to cause a war between the two countries.

This is the feminist subtext of “Mary Queen of Scots,” and it proves ultimately to be her undoing.

Tensions are also inflamed by the fact that Elizabeth is too old to have children and Mary is not. It seems that whoever can produce an heir to the throne will rule both countries.

It’s a talky movie with lots of she said/she said, as the queens don’t meet in person and engage each other until the end of the movie. But there is enough palace intrigue and scandal to keep things hopping in both castles.

Shoutouts go to Alexandra Byrne’s wardrobe team and Jenny Shircore’s make-up crew. They both do phenomenal jobs rendering the leads as authentically resplendent women of their era. Max Richter’s beautiful score makes the film swell with emotional power and ambiance.

Don’t look for “Game of Thrones”-style action and adventure here. This is a by-the-book historical account and the fireworks come primarily from the true political tenor of the times and the nuanced performances by Ronan and Robbie. They hold up their end of the cinematic bargain here. They stay true to their roles and the history of the period.

REVIEW

Mary Queen of Scots

Who: With Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, Brendan Coyle, David Tennant, Gemma Chan and Ian Hart. Directed by Josie Rourke. 

Rated: R.

Running time: 125 minutes.

When: Opens Friday, Dec. 21.

Where: Area theaters.

Grade: B+

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