Mary, Queen of Scots

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Mary, Queen of Scots

Runtime 125 minutes R

There are a few good things about this film. Written by Beau Willimon from Dr. John Guy’s acclaimed biography, Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, this is a view of Mary (Saoirse Ronan) that is eye-opening. To start off with, Ronan is pretty much a dead ringer for one of the paintings of Mary. The resemblance is astonishing.

Mary was the daughter of Scottish King James V, who died six days after her birth, as a result of which she became queen. But her mother took her to her native France where she was raised. At 16 she married the French Dauphin, who became King Francis II of France the next year and she became Queen. Alas, he died the following year, so in 1561 she returned to Scotland at age 19 to assume her place as Queen of Scotland. That’s where director Josie Rourke picks up the story.

… this is a view of Mary (Saoirse Ronan)
that is eye-opening.

But instead of telling it straight up, she tells it by contrasting Mary with Elizabeth I of England. Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded by Henry when Elizabeth was two-years-old. After Henry’s death, there was a parade of monarchs, her half-brother Edward VI, then Lady Jane Grey (for nine days), then her half-sister, the Catholic Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, and, finally, Elizabeth, who became Queen in 1558 at age 25, three years before Mary returned to take the crown in Scotland at age 19.

The film jumps back and forth between Mary and Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) and contrasts how each handles similar problems, dealing with men who were not enamored with women monarchs. During this time (October 10, 1562, actually) Elizabeth contracted smallpox and throughout the film she is shown with sores all over her face

While Rourke shows how the odds were stacked against Mary from the outset, it also shows her to be relatively frivolous, lots of scenes with her cavorting with her maids. It never shows her ruling the country, except some scenes of her on horseback leading a few battles. I have no idea if these are true, but I doubt it.

As long as I’m doubting, the film shows Elizabeth and Mary meeting personally, something that never happened. This is just more Hollywood misrepresenting history, adding to the idea that you can’t believe anything today’s moguls put on the screen.

The film seems biased and stacked against the Scottish Lords who were dead set against Mary ruling their country, painting them as unappealing villains. But why wouldn’t they be opposed to a 19-year-old unqualified person taking over control of a country in which she had never lived?

While the film is agonizingly long, the acting is good throughout and the cinematography (John Mathieson) is exceptional.

Opens Friday, December 21.

Tony Medley is an MPAA-accredited film critic. See more reviews at


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