The events depicted in Mary Queen of Scots may have taken place hundreds of years ago, yet the depressing reality highlighted within this movie could easily translate to the lives of women today.
The sweeping new historical drama, starring Saoirse Ronan as Mary, Queen of Scots, and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I, goes to very great lengths to knock audiences harshly over the head with the idea that the greed, dominance and controlling nature of men will lead to the downfall of every powerful woman living in the public eye.
And, look, they’re not exactly wrong about that.
Mary Queen of Scots centres on Saoirse’s Mary Stuart, who became the Queen of France at just 16 years old and was then widowed at 18. Bravely fighting the looming pressure to remarry and fade into the background, she instead returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne.
The problem is, however, that Scotland and England now both fall under the rule of Margot’s compelling Elizabeth I, and the women must attempt to rule and exist in tandem. They are in equal measure continuously fearful and fascinated by each other, and are also both being advised by courts of ruthless men who are either plotting to overthrow or control them.
It all sounds very exciting, right? Like a feminist-powered Game of Thrones, except in this case rooted in actual historical events, sans a few dragons, and diving deep into the stories of two very iconic and complicated women.
The flaw with this movie, however, is that while all the right ingredients have been tipped into the bowl and mixed together, the finished product tastes a little bit more disastrous than delicious.
It also really must be said that the fault does not lie at the feet of either Saoirse or Margot, who both still turn in beautiful and commanding performances.
When images from the film’s initial production were first made public, much was made of the fact that the beautiful Margot Robbie had undergone an “unrecognisably ugly” transformation in order to portray a queen who was left disfigured by smallpox, painted her face in garish colours, and wore towering wigs of red hair when hers fell out.
Thankfully the whole tired gimmick of a traditionally beautiful actress being lauded for daring to “go ugly” is not played upon too much here by either Margot or the filmmakers and although Elizabeth does not actually have a whole lot of screen time in the film, she’s still a much more nuanced addition to the story than just a woman being ogled at for having a scarred face.
Take a look at the trailer for Mary Queen of Scots.
Saoirse and Margot are also both at their absolute best in the one lone scene they appear in together; a good call from the writers to concoct a scene for them to share since there is no actual historical proof that the real Mary and Elizabeth ever met in person.
The real fault of Mary Queen of Scots can be traced directly to the fact that it is too caught up in delivering a message and sometimes forgets to deliver an actual story.
The events of the film can be both diabolical and fast-paced, but there’s also a whole lot of grandstanding about the plight of women, the ruthlessness of men and about five different scenes where they practically grab the camera with both hands and scream into it, “PLEASE ACKNOWLEDGE HOW TOPICAL THIS IS #FEMINISM.”
In some cases, the character of Mary becomes not much more than a talisman for a cause. She ceases to be presented as an actual character and becomes almost a faceless cautionary tale, not exactly what you want from the one person on screen whose presence, thoughts and words should pulse with truth and realness and make you want to completely invest in them for two hours.