Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

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Critic Consensus: Mary Queen of Scots delivers uneven period political thrills while offering a solid showcase for the talents of its well-matched leads.

AUDIENCE SCORE


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"Mary Queen of Scots" explores the turbulent life of the charismatic Mary Stuart (Ronan). Queen of France at 16 and widowed at 18, Mary defies pressure to remarry. Instead, she returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne. But Scotland and England fall under the rule of the compelling Elizabeth I (Robbie). Each young Queen beholds her "sister" in fear and fascination. Rivals in power and in love, and female regents in a masculine world, the two must decide how to play the game of marriage versus independence. Determined to rule as much more than a figurehead, Mary asserts her claim to the English throne, threatening Elizabeth's sovereignty. Betrayal, rebellion, and conspiracies within each court imperil both thrones - and change the course of history.

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Cast

Saoirse Ronan
as Mary Stuart
Margot Robbie
as Queen Elizabeth I
Jack Lowden
as Lord Darnley
Joe Alwyn
as Robert Dudley
David Tennant
as John Knox
Guy Pearce
as Sir William Cecil
Gemma Chan
as Bess of Hardwick
Martin Compston
as Earl of Bothwell
Brendan Coyle
as Earl of Lennox
Ian Hart
as Lord Maitland
Adrian Lester
as Lord Randolph
James McArdle
as Earl of Moray
Eileen O'Higgins
as Mary Beaton
Ian Hallard
as Sir Richard Knightley
Kadiff Kirwan
as Attaché
Adam Bond
as Moray Man #1
Fran Targ
as Conspirators
Alex Beckett
as Sir Walter Mildmay
Michael Haydon
as Privy Council
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Critic Reviews for Mary Queen of Scots

All Critics (237) | Top Critics (42)

This is a heartfelt, serious-minded film about 16th-century power politics from screenwriter Beau Willimon and director Josie Rourke, theatrically conceived, and influenced by Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth.

Jan 16, 2019 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

Mary Queen of Scots is a tawdry soap opera that insists it's an intelligent political thriller.

Dec 21, 2018 | Full Review…

[A] lack of consistency makes far too many pivotal plot points seem arbitrary, as if the filmmakers realized, "we have to get things moving!"

Dec 14, 2018 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

If it's not quite a success, at least it's an ambitious failure.

Dec 14, 2018 | Rating: 1/5 | Full Review…

A dramatic but unreliable account of Mary's tenuous rule over Scotland and deadly rivalry with Elizabeth I of England.

Dec 14, 2018 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

"Mary Queen of Scots" feels like sitting through a history lesson, and not a particularly enlightening one.

Dec 13, 2018 | Rating: C+ | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Mary Queen of Scots

By no means a masterpiece, Mary Queen of Scots is an imperfectly paced, straightforward, and entertaining historical biopic of the kind that Hollywood used to crank out in previous decades. Movies centering around Tudor history have always been a mixed bag. For every Anne of the Thousand Days and A Man For All Seasons, you get The Other Boleyn Girl. Premium television appears to be the route to go for this kind of material these days, but occasionally a small budgeted picture such as this can eke out a small victory. Make no mistake. Mary Queen of Scots is the kind of period drama that critics dismiss, and general audiences ignore, but for different reasons. We have characters hitting the beats and bullet points of their historical counterparts, time displacement to fit a narrative, riders on horseback delivering messages, PG-13 sex scenes, and the usual gamut of British Commonwealth actors filling in as the minor cast. The reason to be here is our two main leads. Saoirse Ronan puts in a valiant effort as the titular doomed Queen. We can split hairs over whether or not Mary had a French accent or we can acknowledge that Ronan brings the haughty feistiness and naivete that historical Mary was said to possess. Margot Robbie is on fire these days and so is her Elizabeth I. She only appears in around a quarter of the picture, but she cuts a deep impression. The film posits a deep respect and admiration between the two feuding queens, which some have described as feminist. I will not evaluate that, but I usually subscribe to the idea that Elizabeth viewed Mary as either a threat or a pawn depending on the moment, as all Tudor monarchs viewed their rivals. That being said, I enjoyed the deviation, even if we got the overused inaccuracy of the two meeting in person in an abandoned shed, as ALL of these movies and shows tend to do. These two actresses are delightful to watch and you will put up with this movieâ(TM)s pedestrian storytelling to see more of them. Mary Queen of Scots does not add much to the medium of cinema, as the risquà (C) and avant-garde The Favourite managed to accomplish, but it succeeds as a middle-of-the-road biopic, ready-made for afternoon television and Netflix dates.

Joshua Sheetz
Joshua Sheetz

Super Reviewer

½

Serving as a feminist reclamation project, Mary Queen of Scots attempts to re-contextualize "Bloody Mary" in the royal dispute for the English throne. As played by Saoirse Ronan, Mary is portrayed as an empathetic, open-minded but strong-willed ruler looking to make peace between the two nations, and Elizabeth is portrayed as a flinty, scared, aloof woman that literally tells her younger cousin that she is her better in every manner. It's a flip of how the two women are often portrayed throughout history, which raises the question of whether history has been twisted from centuries of revisionist and political obfuscation. There are definitely elements in this movie that I know are historically questionable, like Mary accepting a gay man into her royal court of ladies with open arms and a dismissive view of his sexual leanings. I find it hard to fathom that a devout Catholic woman who ordered heathens burned at the stake would be so anachronistically tolerant of homosexuality. If there's a new theme for this costume drama it's that women, even those in power, even those who were deemed wicked or corrupt by historians (universally men for centuries), were hemmed in by scheming men who were trying to usurp their power, undermine them, and manipulate them. Mary is thrown into one faulty suitor after another, positioning her as the victim of a patriarchal society. Again, I suspect there is validity to this context but it treats Mary with kid gloves, denying her righteous impulses. Ronan (Lady Bird) delivers a fine performance of grit and grace, but it's Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) as Elizabeth that really misses the mark. She is sadly miscast and seems to shrink in the role. The depiction of Queen Elizabeth is also a disservice for drama and the concluding makeup reminded me of the Queen of Hearts from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderand. Mary Queen of Scots is an acceptable costume drama told with a little more heat (it's R-rated for some reason) and a little more consideration to its subjects, but Mary Queen of Scots made me question the voracity of its portraits and made me really wish I was watching the Cate Blanchett Elizabeth movie instead. Edit: There are two Marys at this time, Stuart and Tudor, and I have conflated them. In my defense, it seems like there shouldn't be more than one Mary by name when you're talking about a Catholic rival who is related to Elizabeth. I've left my review uncorrected to further own my ignorance. Nate's Grade: B-

Nate Zoebl
Nate Zoebl

Super Reviewer

The relationship between England and Scotland has always been contentious and never more so than four centuries ago when this film captures the true enmity for each other. Willimon crafts a very fine script and Ronan shines in the lead role with Robbie picking up the few morsels she is given. A power play for the ages. (12-22-18)

John C
John C

Super Reviewer

By definition, Mary Queen of Scots is a movie. It's competently made, one would even say a rather gorgeous film to behold (the costume design is especially noteworthy), and it has performances from two of last year's Best Actress nominees with a story that more than lends itself well to drama yet despite all these strong components Mary Queen of Scots never becomes anything compelling. It's as if first-time feature director Josie Rourke was able to successfully implement all of the technical skills and story knowledge she's accrued over her career thus far and implement them into a film that meets all the standards of what is supposed to make-up a film, but with none of the intangible stuff one needs in order to craft something truly moving or impactful. Saoirse Ronan is Mary Stuart, who was the Queen of France at 16 and widowed by 18, who then defied pressure to re-marry and instead returned to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne. Scotland and England fell under the rule of the compelling Elizabeth I as played by Margot Robbie though, intensifying this rivalry of sorts between two women who have unsuspectingly come to power in the absence of their husbands in a world that is designed to allow the masculine to rule. The majority of Mary Queen of Scots revolves around the back and forth of Mary and Elizabeth as they play games involving marriage and bearing children that result in betrayal, rebellion, and conspiracies within each others courts that only tend to further complicate who the one true ruler is meant to be. To certain extents the film is perfectly content in being what it's so very clearly intended to be-an enticing period drama-but despite bouncing back and forth between Mary's provocations and Elizabeth's deliberations as to how she should properly respond to said provocations there isn't much of a drive to the overall film. The shorter vignettes within the whole of the film have a hit or miss quality where the reaction each individual has will either entice them to continue on this journey with the characters or push them to look at their phone and determine how much of the running time remains. For all the good intents, grand costumes, and researched performances Mary Queen of Scots so clearly sports it was near impossible to not glance down at the time more times than I should have.

Philip Price
Philip Price

Super Reviewer

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