History is nobody's personal property. Filmmakers and story tellers have a right to re-interpret and take artistic freedom from historic facts when they're trying to portray something new. However, this doesn't give them the right to distort history entirely.
In Josie Rourke's version of the classic story where Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) takes on Mary Queen of Scotland (Saoirse Ronan), titled Mary Queen of Scots, the latter’s court seems more a hotbed of excessive libidinousness than a place of political intrigue.
The atmosphere surrounding Queen Mary is one of the bad takeaways from the movie but raping her English husband (Scottish actor Jack Lowden), who was caught in bed with a gay courtier (Ismael Cruz Cordova), overpopulates the whole presence. The gay courtier happens to be the most liberated character in the entire movie and also dies by being knifed.
In the beginning, the makers make it quite clear that this movie has a simple no tolerance policy and so they don’t. No tolerance for moral, spiritual or sexual ambivalence. The characters shriek their moral and political allegiances.
Given the director's illustrious theatre days, she makes the most of her character; so much so that you can hear them in the last row. However, making the screen go loud, the director knowingly sacrificed a tempered equilibrium between the two protagonists. Now that brings us to Ronan and Robbie, who are at war with one another and the world is not yet ready to accept female supremacy.
While the two Queens try their best to battle with passion and empathy, the script doesn't give them much freedom to do more. Talking about the star performances, Ronan's Mary is all about sweetness and sexiness, however, Robbie's Elizabeth is an angered embittered childless lonely woman who wears her hideous masked face as a shield against the emotions that flow within her. In total honesty, neither of the two performances can even be remotely compared to what Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson achieved as Mary and Elizabeth in the 1971 version of Mary Queen of Scots.
Funnily, Ronan and Robbie actually resemble the two great actresses who played their parts in that 1971 film. So, one can say, that they are essaying Redgrave and A Jackson rather than Mary and Elizabeth.
Thanks to some of the luscious shots of horses trooping across the Scottish countryside, this movie surely takes full advantage of the picturesque Scotland. But not many outdoor scenes have been shot in Britain; perhaps this is done purposely to replicate Elizabeth's hemmed-in emotionally locked-out existence.
I may be wrong in imagining such thematic metaphors in a film that gets down to basics with Mary's husband pleasuring her manually on their wedding night. After her satiation, she offers to return the favour. "There is no need for that," the bridegroom declares coyly. Queen Mary looks more confused by the nuptial sacrifice than moved. By the time her execution comes along I was no longer sure, other than their religious difference, what the problem was between the two queenly cousins. Or, why Queen Mary wore red to her execution (is it possible her black dress was out for laundry?).
While it is welcome to see strong women taking the lead in another political drama, Mary Queen Of Scots nowhere replicates the masterly mischief and pungent political machinations of that other recent favourite British period drama The Favourite. FIVE STARS!