In 1561, the 18 year old Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) returns to religiously divided Scotland from France a (probably virgin) widow and hopes to reign over both Protestant England as well as partly Catholic Scotland. Her English Tudor cousin, Queen Elizabeth (Margot Robbie), is thus faced with an impossible situation - which eventually ends badly for Mary. A story of betrayal, conspiracy and rebellion that changed history. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Louise Keller Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie dazzle in this powerhouse of a film. While it is Mary, Queen of Scots who is centre stage throughout this torrid dramatic tale involving war, religion, ambition and treachery, her cousin Queen Elizabeth creates a formidable shadow. This is the subject matter of director Josie Rourke's debut feature that offers a gift of a role to 24 year old Ronan.
The extraordinarily talented Ronan perfectly embodies the fiery titan-haired, thrice married Mary, whose fate is determined amid spectacular locations, handsome costumes on a large scale. The music score is also of a suitably grand scale, although at times it tends to overwhelm, rather than enhance the narrative.
The tale is complex and Beau Williams' occasionally cluttered screenplay (adapted from historian, John Guy's biography) encompasses all the intricacies of the religious conflicts, relationships and how events play out. Husbands, counselors, lovers, advisors and confidantes all play their part. Look out for Guy Pearce as Queen Elizabeth's advisor and David Tennant as the Protestant cleric. The scale of the film is its greatest strength along with its perfect casting of Ronan and Robbie as Queen Elizabeth. Cinematic, powerful and dramatic, this is a film with bite.
In many ways it is a tale of two women. Mary's notion to co-exist with her cousin under a two-kingdoms united agreement is far too complicated to become a reality. The fictitious secret meeting between Mary and Elizabeth (Robbie effectively portraying the unfortunately pox-marked Queen) is beautifully shot, allowing the women only fleeting glimpses of each other before they finally stand face to face. The moment when Elizabeth expresses her avid jealousy of the example of beauty, bravery and motherhood portrayed before her is the film's most potent moment. If you are interested in history or simply are a sucker for a good 16th century costume drama, don't miss this superb piece of cinema.
Review by Andrew L. Urban: You could call it operatic, if there was more music and singing, a history rich in drama, intrigue, death, destruction, power - and a bit of love. The film certainly looks like a splendidly costumed and majestically designed opera, spectacular in every way. Including the performances, from two of the best young actresses of our age, Saoirse Ronan as Queen Mary and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth - the latter deteriorating hideously after a bout of the pox. (She wasn't much to look at before, either, but Robbie is spared that humiliation.)
Adapted from historian Dr John Guy's scholarly if positively biased but acclaimed book (Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart), the film offers its two leads endless opportunities to show their craft, from tight close ups of agony and ecstasy, to the spectacle of the courts in which they rule, and to the battle field - at least in Mary's case.
The sprawling support cast - including Australia's wide-ranging star, Guy Pearce as Elizabeth's advisor William Cecil - is expertly wrangled by debuting director Josie Rourke, whose theatrical experience serves her well.
It's a film that could not succeed as well as it does without superb craftsmanship from cinematographer John Mathieson, production designer James Merifield, editor Chris Dickens and composer Max Richter. If the film were entirely fictional, it would still be a knockout.
CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Guy Pearce, Simon Russell Beale, Martin Compston, Adrian Lester, Joe Alwyn, Gemma Chan, Adrian Derrick-Palmer, Adam Bond, Aneurin Pascoe, Liah O'Prey, Eileen O'Higgins, David Rizzio, Ian Hart, Sean Buchanan, Brendan Coyle, Nathan East, David Tennant