Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

Historical movies aren't really my thing —despite the fact that I loved my teacher, history was one of my least favourite subjects in high school— but I checked out Mary Queen of Scots anyway because one does not simply pass a movie starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. And of course eye-candy in the form of Jack Lowden is always welcome. 

The film tells the story of Catholic Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan). Queen of France at 16 and widowed at 18, she returns to Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne. But Scotland and England are both ruled by her cousin Elizabeth (Margot Robbie), the Protestant Queen of England, and her claim to the English throne puts her on a collision course with Queen Elizabeth I.

A more or less compelling political battle of wits is what I was expecting, but what I got instead was a beyond tedious and "not so easy to follow because of all the double-crossing" plot filled with historical inaccuracies —this part of history was unknown to me but there were things so far fetched I checked for facts on Wikipedia—, Mary refusing to do what people advised her and Elizabeth crying. There are political intrigue and backstabbing, lots of both, but the story is not interesting, it's not engaging and I just didn't care because of the dull, inconsistent storytelling.

The characters are also pretty bland and uninteresting as they are poorly characterized, poorly developed and, for the exception of Mary, they don't even have clear motivations. They are just cartoonish characters that deserve absolutely no sympathy, especially Elizabeth who is presented as a weak, constantly whining woman. Not to mention the openly gay friend of Mary, or her gay husband.

At least there's the cast, part of it, that makes Mary Queen of Scots more bearable. Both Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie do a good job in the roles as they manage to make their characters slightly more interesting, and both doing a great job at hiding their accents, Irish the first, Australian the latter —I'm not sure though why Mary has a Scottish accent since she grew up in France. The rest though is quite a mess. It's not entirely the actors' fault as the script is quite poor but most of them give wooden performances or over-act like David Tennant and when they are actually decent, they are criminally underused like Guy Pearce.

Focus Features, Universal Pictures

The strong performances from Ronan and Robbie aren't the only good things about Mary Queen of Scots. The cinematography is quite breathtaking with plenty of beautiful scenery and locations rich in colour; the costumes are gorgeous; the makeup is very good.

Unfortunately, the writing is terrible, the direction is dull, and the casting of people of colour to play 16th century Great Britain aristocrats just doesn't feel right. If they wanted to make a politically correct movie, they should have gone with fictional characters. But I guess it fits the film very well if you consider all the inaccuracies.



  1. I'm a huge history buff and have always been fascinated by the Tudors and those in their sphere. Obviously I was intrigued when I read about this coming but knowing how filmmakers are often free and easy with the facts I was also leery. I was right to be.

    I had seen different versions of the tale of these two rulers. More on Elizabeth since she made far more of an impact on world events and history but Mary was usually woven into the narrative because of her determination at chasing the fool's errand of usurping her cousin. What most, including this one, get wrong is ignoring the fact that Mary was a scheming emotionally stunted nitwit wholly unsuited and inept as a ruler of even a small kingdom like Scotland who didn't have the sense to recognize her shortcomings and so joined in a series of doomed intrigues. That she escaped the ax for as long as she did was entirely due to Elizabeth's forbearance not her own recklessness.

    You're right about the look of the film which is beautiful but pretty pictures do not a good film make and this is a forgettable affair. Ronan and Robbie were fine but missing the gravitas and power that Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson brought to the same women in the 70's film Mary, Queen of Scots.

    1. You're right, beautiful look does not equal good film, and this is a proof. I haven't seen the 1970s version but I'll check it out.