MOVIE REVIEW: Mary Queen Of Scots a 16th century chick flick
MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS
Director: Josie Rourke
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Joe Alwyn
Rating MA 15+
Running time 124 minutes
Verdict A 16th century chick flick
ON PAPER, this 16th century yarn about two wily women who attempt to outsmart their destiny seems like a sure-fire bet.
But Mary Queen of Scots barely makes it across the finish line.
Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie do their best breathe some life into the well-frocked period piece, but they are hampered by an unresolved screenplay.
Prematurely widowed at 18, Mary Stuart - played by Ronan as a headstrong, capricious, sylph of a girl- defies pressure to remarry and returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her throne.
Her return isn't exactly embraced by her beloved half-brother (James McArdle), who has been ruling the country in her absence, or his powerful Protestant council, which immediately starts plotting her demise.
The Catholic monarch's claim to the English throne (as the only surviving legitimate child of King James V) further threatens the stability of the region.
Mary's power struggle with her similarly strong-willed cousin, Elizabeth I (Robbie), is a worthy subject for a revisionist historical drama in the #MeToo era.
History tends to treat Mary Queen of Scots' title character as a villain. But here, acclaimed theatre director Josie Rourke and writer Beau Willimon (House of Cards) explore the role misogyny, nationalism and bigotry played in her premature demise.
And rather than their portray the central characters as bitter rivals, the filmmakers reimagine them as two proto-feminists cut from very similar cloth.
Elizabeth Tudor, a shrewd operator, feels a kinship with her would-be usurper.
They circle each other, warily, against a volatile backdrop of sex, politics, treachery and revenge.
So far, so promising.
But Mary Queen of Scots gets caught somewhere between sweeping historical drama and intimate chamber piece.
It's as if the filmmakers can't decide whether their central characters are pawns or players. And the screenplay isn't clever enough to accommodate both.
While Robbie fully commits to the role of Elizabeth - complete with prosthetic nose, thick, white, smallpox-covering pancake makeup and receding hairline - the character isn't well-written enough for her to deliver a three-dimensional performance.
Ronan plays the Queen of the North with a fierceness that rings true.
But the filmmakers' controversial assertion that Mary was manipulated into a nation-defining marriage by an opportunistic act of cunnilingus feels a little tawdry.
Alongside The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos's monstrously entertaining account of Queen Anne's court, for which Olivia Colman recently won a Golden Globe, Mary Queen of Scots comes across as rather stilted.