Killer Queens (Mary Queen of Scots review)

What’s that? Another film based on true events? During Awards Season?! What’re the chances of that! This one tells the story of Mary, Queen of Scots and her rivalry to the throne of Queen Elizabeth 1st. It’s not entirely accurate, and becomes mildly tedious in places, but it’s still a thrilling Tudor political drama.

mary queen of scots lizPortraying the titular Queen is the sickeningly talented Saoirse Ronan. At the age of 24, Ronan has been nominated for three Oscars and four BAFTA’s, and once again she delivers a powerful performance of the Scottish royal. She has such grace and intensity, but also very well portrays the innocence of the young Queen, who was made ruler just six days after she was born. Her counterpart, Elizabeth 1st, is brilliantly portrayed by Margot Robbie. With subtle prosthetics and a great makeup job, the whole profile of Robbie is changed, and she utterly inhabits the character of the paranoid Queen. Both of the leads ditch their usual accents (Irish and Australian respectively) and their new voices, Scottish and the Queen’s English, are completely convincing.

Other casting includes Guy Pearce as Elizabeth’s advisor William Cecil, David Tennant as the Protestant cleric John Knox, and Jack Lowden as Lord Darnley, Mary’s second husband and father to James 1st. It should be said that the Tudor politics, to someone who knows little about it, are slightly alienating at points. However, the most important decisions are made clearly and are explained well, so the audience isn’t too lost through the story. The drama is well created through real tales of assassination, murder and childbirth.

Stylistically, the film is an almost monumental success. Cinematic pans of the Scottish Highlands blend beautifully into the dull, smoke-filled cinematography. Dull, in this case, is used in a positive way, and there is a gorgeous desaturated colour to the majority of the vista’s, making Mary’s striking ginger hair stand out even more. The production design is equally beautiful, and just as impressive as ‘The Favourite’. Queen Elizabeth particularly has a lot of gorgeous dresses and wigs, and they seem incredibly accurate for the contemporary design. The only downside is one scene towards the end, where there are hundreds of drapes hanging in a room to add drama to the scene of two characters meeting. These were so over the top, and rather than adding drama, it simply ruined the realism.

It did feel like the ending of the film was slightly rushed and underwhelming. It’s a slow moving, brooding film with the drama created through political tension rather than political action. However because of this, by the time the finale begins, it is almost immediately over. More ridiculous is that the ending has already been shown at the beginning of the movie, so we know from the start how the narrative will end. I had hoped that by the end we would be able to see a different viewpoint of the events, but when they played out in the same way, I was slightly disappointed.

Overall Mary Queen of Scots is a beautiful film, with brooding drama and fantastic leads. Though it’s slow going and the ending is slightly underwhelming, it’s still a great film from first-time film director Josie Rourke.

5 stars 4

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