…Mary Queen of Scots (Film Review)

In the wake of the astoundingly popular The Favourite, it’s easy to see why Mary Queen of Scots would be both highly anticipated and bitterly disappointing.

Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie as Mary and Elizabeth

The Basic Plot

The movie opens with a short explanation of Mary’s life so far – that she was married at 15 and widowed at 18; she then returned to Scotland to reclaim the throne which had been kept warm by her brother, James.

After a brief flash forward, showing Mary approaching a chopping block (SPOILER!), we then follow the events of Mary’s life from her return to Scotland to her exile in England including her two marriages, the murder of David Rizzio, civil war and her relationship with her ‘cousin’ Elizabeth (actually her cousin once removed; Mary’s Great Uncle is Henry VIII, making her claim to the English throne potentially stronger than Elizabeth’s).

Margot Robbie as an older Elizabeth I

The Good and The Bad

Ronan’s accent was excellent – I didn’t doubt it for a second and as a period drama nerd, I couldn’t help but love the costumes and make up, hats off to the costumier: just look at Robbie’s older Elizabeth (above) – stunning. Also Ronan’s hair… can someone dye me ginger?! Beautiful.

I liked David Tennant, but it did feel a little like they filmed all his scenes in a day and then cut them in to remind everyone that Tennant was in the movie. The disquiet between the Protestants and the Catholics during the Tudor period was such a huge part of the history and I feel this could have been played better. Of course I didn’t go into the movie expecting a documentary, or in fact even historical accuracy, but I didn’t come away thinking ‘wow the rift between the Protestants and the Catholics really messed stuff up for Mary’, which I should have done.

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 12.57.38
David Tennant as John Knox

For me, Robbie was great. I would have liked to see a lot more of her. The movie heavily focused on Mary (as per the title of the movie!) instead of the love/tension between the two queens. I felt, and those I saw it with agreed, that the women were almost weak, they were two Queens who were staunchly Protestant and Catholic, strong and stood against the men who opposed them, but I didn’t come out feeling empowered.

David Rizzio’s death scene (SPOILER!) was the most effecting, he was a character you actually ended up caring about, but the rest of the fight scenes were short and rushed – nothing to get your blood pumping. However, the Scottish scenery was jaw-dropping.

My last gripe is that the last 25 years were packed into five minutes. I would have loved to have seen Elizabeth’s torment over having to send her own cousin to the block.

Ronan looking regal

The History

I am not an expert on Early Modern history, but I am a big fan of the Tudors and know enough to know there were some liberties taken. For example, I’m not sure how accurate it was that Mary’s second husband had a gay love affair, or that Mary’s first marriage (to Francis) wasn’t properly consummated, but I was a bit put off when Mary called Henry VIII “Henry VIII” it just sounded a bit silly.

The scene where Mary and Elizabeth meet probably never happened, in fact there is basically a consensus that they never met at all. Also, it seemed to suggest that Mary was beheaded with a scythe, where as I’m pretty sure (someone who is an expert can correct me here) that it would have been a sword…but I’m just being picky now.

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 13.17.02
Mary, Queen of Scots


How would I have changed it? Well, I would have had a lot more of Elizabeth, including showing how she was a Protestant and that she wouldn’t tolerate Catholicism. I would have shown Ronan as more Catholic (e.g. there were no scenes of her praying, at all), but that she was also more tolerant than Elizabeth. I would have shown how James’ birth changed things, how important a Son (and heir) was to those who supported the Queens. I would have liked to have seen more of Mary in England and how she faired there. There is also the question of wether Mary did have a hand in the plot to bring down Elizabeth or not…

This whole thing has sounded pretty negative, and I don’t want to put people off that enjoy a good period drama, but I would be warned don’t expect a) a historically accurate depiction of the time or b) a darkly comic, touching, whirlwind like The Favourite.

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