A review of the new film “Mary, Queen Of Scots”

In 1972, I went to the cinema to a see a film with exactly the same title, telling the same late 16th century story, with Vanessa Redgrave as the Scottish Catholic queen and Glenda Jackson as her English Protestant cousin and rival Elizabeth. 

Almost half a century later, I returned to the theatre to see a fresh version of this fascinating period of British history with the Irish Saoirse Ronan as the Scottish royal and the Australian Margot Robbie as the English monarch.

Ronan has come a long way in a short time since her childhood appearance in “Atonement” and she is superb in this leading role as a woman battling a whole succession of men who wish to control her as well as a “sister”/cousin who ultimately condemns her to death. Robbie does well in a more challenging role with less screen time in which she dons a prosthetic nose and suffers a pox-marked face. 

A difference between this version of the story and other cinematic endeavours is that for the first time we have a female director, Josie Rourke, best-known as the Artistic Director of London’s Donmar Warehouse, here making her film debut.

The film has been criticised both for the fact that the two queens meet (they never did) and for the theatrical style of this encounter (the billowing sheets betray Rourke’s background in the theatre). I think that it is a legitimate artistic device to present the two queens as coming together (where would “Heat” have been without the two leads meeting over coffee?), but the scene is too anti-climatic for such a dramatic face-off. 

This is a season of British royal costume dramas since “The Favourite” was released in the UK only a few weeks before “Mary, Queen Of Scots” and both look wonderful with splendid clothing and striking locations.

But, arguably “Mary” has a particular message at a time when the nation is tearing itself in pieces over Brexit. It tells us how England and Scotland were brought together under Mary’s son James and invites us (if silently) to consider whether we really want to risk that union.


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