11th Feb2019

‘Mary Queen of Scots’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, Guy Pearce, Maria Dragus, Eileen O’Higgins, Liah O’Prey, Izuka Hoyle, Brendan Coyle, Martin Compston, Gemma Chan, Ismael Cruz Córdova | Written by Beau Willimon | Directed by Josie Rourke


Mary Queen of Scots, directed by Josie Rourke, is a remake/retelling of the 1971 film of the same name Mary, Queen of Scots directed by Charles Jarrott. Rourke’s film stars two heavyweight leading actress titans of their craft in Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, as opposing queens Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I battling out for the reign. This twenty-nineteen rendition is a highly intense scorcher of deliberating venomous proposal and political promise. Wrapped in a deeply controversial and disputed historical subject matter with questionable accuracy that thankfully doesn’t derail an otherwise immersive film.

Josie Rourke’s film looks and sounds stunning. Courtesy of the score from composer John Mathieson and cinematography by Max Richter. The two combined together are delightfully effective in beautiful prowess that brings an immense scale of what each party is fighting for in the proceedings. Setting the tone for the grand scale of what is at stake between the two combative Scottish and English houses with an ironic beauty of opposing mise-en-scene between the two monarchs. Both looking absolutely stunning throughout in a vibrant and murky composition.

Ritcher’s eye and framing in particularly impresses with how bold and endearing he makes the picture feel. It harbours an opposing warm and cold colour palette. Inviting and blocking with a sense of suspense at every turn. Coated in a deep sense of self-security with welcoming plights of red and orange in the sequences in England and opposing that of the lushes green representing growth in Scotland brushed with cold blues and metallics. The atmosphere brought forward is delightfully compelling and evocative in the tremendous production design from James Merifield.

The colour-blind casting of characters also works wonderfully. It’s never explicitly referenced or hinged upon throughout the story. It is seamlessly integrated into production with simplistic and generic ease. Yes, of course, it isn’t specifically historically accurate but the series of events that develop are not altered by the presence of a character with different skin tones, and those who do find fault are missing the point of balanced inclusion.

The houses that harbour Mary and Elizabeth scheme and fight over an incessant desire for power via their female-led constituency. A poignant and profoundly important element to see showcased in a ruling world that over five hundred years later is still prosperously relevant. Highlighting of the often scapegoat tenours of women in power and the strength each woman has to find to conquer the disobedience and arrogance of man. A factor that is incredibly acute in Rourke’s film and conveyed via an elegant and dramatic wisely devastating fashion.

The two performances are fabulous and truly extraordinary to see develop on screen. Ronan for one is deeply elegant and ubiquitous in her performance as Mary. Her character growth from a naive young girl from her teenage years to potential queen and mother to the heir is intransigent and brilliantly radiant. The craft, range and depth on show here are second to none in terms of ability and endearment. Robbie also impresses with a more stoic and emotionally unbalanced performance. Both unhinged and intensely peevish with a sublime level of fragility.

However, it is undoubtedly the film of Ronan who takes the central core here with Robbie’s Elizabeth the third party of events. The edit from Chris Dickens crafting the structure of which cuts back and forth between the two kingdoms with an obvious emphasis on Mary. The issue here is that the material of Mary is so inherently engaging and immersive, every time it does cut back to Elizabeth all the momentum and atmosphere is slowly drained away from the unfolding primary events of Scotland with the issues in the English sequences feeling more regurgitated and repetitive than growth. Although the penultimate scene in which both characters meet is superbly effective how the sequence itself is dressed, almost a warped combination of the diner scene in Michael Mann’s Heat and the climactic duel in Enter the Dragon.


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